Local Legend: Randy Wood
Randy Wood: Sweet Sounds in Bloomingdale Georgia
Story by Cindy Reid | Photos by Jonathan Chick
As a world-famous luthier and promoter of Americana music, there simply is no one who is equal to Randy Wood, or who has had his storied career. Randy Wood looks and sounds like a man born and raised in rural Georgia. Funny, sharp and down to earth. You would never know from chatting with him that he has traveled in heady circles as a master luthier (a guitar builder that passed the chain from apprentice, to journeyman and then to master), building musical instruments for the legends of country and bluegrass music while preserving and promoting roots music for the next generation.
Born and raised in Coffee County, Ga., Wood’s family moved to Brunswick when he was 12 years old. “I grew up on a farm, Dad was a sharecropper. I had five siblings and we all worked. We always worked.”
He says his musical and woodworking skills come from his father. “My dad played and sang, and a number of his brothers played and sang,” he says. “He worked with his hands and also worked with wood.” Farming wasn’t for Wood and after serving in the US Army he returned to Brunswick for a year and then moved to Atlanta to be a draftsman.
Wood came to his future career via a good friend, Tut Taylor, who was a renowned bluegrass musician and master dobro player who lived in Milledgeville, Georgia. “He had a wood shop and fooled around with instruments,” Wood says. “He talked to me about moving to Milledgeville to work and that’s where I started working on instruments. I spent two years there.”
In January 1970, Wood, Taylor and George Gruhn—an expert on vintage guitars—moved to Nashville and opened a business called GTR. “One of the reasons we moved there was because they were filming Johnny Cash’s television show at the Ryman Auditorium,” Wood says. “Gibson wanted us to do some of their custom work.
“Gibson backed out, but by that time, we had already set up and had a good business,” he says. “That’s because the Ryman was on Fifth Avenue, and we were on Fourth Avenue. The Ryman was at our back door.
Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Presley, Billy Gibbons, Keith Richards, Roy Acuff, Ricky Skaggs, Hank Williams Jr, Vassar Clements, and Clarence White became Wood’s clients. He built a mandolin for bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Much of the country and bluegrass music heard on the radio was likely made on a Randy Wood instrument.
Never one to slow down, Wood opened the original Old Time Pickin’ Parlor in Nashville to provide a venue for musicians and fans. But after a long run in Nashville, Wood and his wife Irene were ready to leave city life—so they moved back to Georgia. They lived on the Isle of Hope for more than 20 years, where Wood ran a woodshop and a small mail-order business from home.
As their home became a hub of bluegrass activity, they needed more “country” and so moved to four acres they owned on Highway 80 in Bloomingdale Ga. They built a house, a workshop and a retail store—the Randy Wood Guitar and Music Store. Later came the 100-seat performance venue, Randy's Old-Time Pickin' Parlor. Fortunately for our community, this local establishment has become a mecca for world class musicians and those who appreciate great music and finely crafted instruments.
“I’m liking old time music—that’s really what I like the most, old time and bluegrass. Bluegrass was my first love. Then came rhythm and blues, country, and all kinds of different bands. But personally, I like to listen to bluegrass on my radio.”
Wood says he has an appreciation for all kinds of musical genres. “I have friends in all areas of music, like Tony Rice, a hell of a nice guy, and Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, who is another good friend.”
Not one for taking time off, Wood says he is not interested in vacations. “I took a vacation one time, twenty five or thirty years ago because my wife wanted to go to Hawaii to visit our daughter and her family.” He went but said “I would rather be here than anywhere else.”
He says he stays busy working and learning something new. “You’ve got to have interests in life. Work forty years and one day they stop and go sit in front of the television in the Lazy-boy. That’s not for me. You need to stay interested in something for your physical and mental wellbeing. I learn stuff every day, it keeps life interesting.”
Because Wood’s life has been so interesting, Randy Wood: The Lore of the Luthier (Charles K. Wolfe Music Series) by author Daniel Wile was published in 2020 by the University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville). Wile wrote:
“Wood’s impact on the music world reaches far beyond repaired guitar frets and warped necks. He has created spaces where music enthusiasts of all stripes can hang out, surrounded by people who speak their language. Randy sets the example for how to behave. All people in the shop are to be treated as friends, whether they have sold a million albums or just picked up a guitar for the first time.” (The book is available on Amazon)
The Music Store
Wood’s extraordinary custom instruments are available through the on premise music store. Just holding the works of art he creates is a thrill for any experienced or novice musician.
But Wood wants to make it clear that musicians of all skill levels and experience can find instruments that suit them perfectly here. As unpretentious as always, he says if you’re looking to pick up an instrument, no matter what skill level or age, this is a great place to come and get started. They carry a new and used inventory of stringed instruments, typically including guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, upright and electric basses.
Instrument Repair & Setup
A world class luthier, Wood considers repair work a core service of his instrument business. And it’s not for the celebrity musician these days. “Our main business comes from the weekend picker and people with day jobs,” Wood says. “People come in and call and say they didn’t call before because they figured we’d charge too much but I want them to know our prices are mid-range and, in a lot of cases, lower range.”
The Pickin' Parlor
Randy's Old-Time Pickin' Parlor is known for its first-rate acoustics and warm and friendly environment. The 110-seat concert hall has hosted major headliners such as Earl Scruggs—“we knew each in Nashville,” Woods says—and other renowned musicians, such as the Boxcars, Junior Brown, and Laurence Juber, here in Bloomingdale.
“One thing local people may not realize is that we bring in the best talent in the world. “Wood says people fly in from Pennsylvania or Washington, DC for a show that people who live two blocks away don’t attend. He says he would like to reach more local people and is heartened by the fact that many of the people moving to this area “enjoy good music and know the musicians we bring to the performance hall. Younger people enjoy music. We had a fair number of young people here for the bluegrass fest—a whole new crop!”
Last year due to the pandemic, they were unable to host live music for a year, but the time was put to good use. “We took the opportunity to remodel the concert hall to try to make things a little more comfortable and look a little nicer,” Wood said. The schedule of upcoming shows is jam packed with talent and Wood encourages everyone to come out and enjoy an evening of live music.
Looking to the Future
Wood says he has no intention of retiring (again) anytime soon, “I retired thirty five or forty years ago. So far, it’s going all right, Maybe I’ll retire again one of these days but everyone I know who retired is dead now.” With the Randy Wood Guitar and Music Store, Wood says, “I started something I enjoy, and I get up every morning and look forward to going to work.”
1304 US Hwy.
Bloomingdale, GA 31302
Hours: Mon–Sat, 10:00am - 6:00pm