Tom Henderson knows that his store should never have made it, nor should his product. But he doesn't really care because his balance sheet counts converts and tradition, not red or black ink. For 10 years Henderson has picked out a living in the only all-bluegrass music store in the area.
"It's sheer willpower to stay in business one day at a time," he said.
His hobby, the folk music of the Appalachian people mixed with the melancholy tones of the Celtics, became his obsession, he admits, forcing him to leave the "real" business world, where he worked in sales and marketing.
The dusty gramophone in the modest shop window forewarns that electronics have been passed by in favor of a native craft popular in Europe but passed by in commercial radio.
The Bluegrass Parlor, 4810 E. Busch Blvd., is a monument to bluegrass music, bluegrass instruments, bluegrass music lessons and bluegrass stars. Henderson knows the history. He should. He is host of a syndicated bluegrass show broadcast to 28 stations across the country, including WMNF (88.5 FM) in Tampa, where it airs from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday nights. A Virginia native, Henderson fell in love with bluegrass music at age 8 when his father gave him his first guitar.
Most of his profits come from sales of records, CDs, and tapes, music that the chain music stores reject as too country, he said. He sells them in the store and through a mail-order catalog he promotes on the radio shows. He carries more than 100 artists, including the messiahs of the genre _ Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
"Bluegrass is almost like a religious experience. You know, like attending a revival," he said. "Not everyone gets the fever, not everyone feels it, but some do,
and they get saved."
Richard Ferry has seen the light. Transplanted from Los Angeles to Tampa for only three days, he drove across town to find fellow aficionados.
"There's just no comparison between bluegrass and rock musicians. They (rock guitarists) can't play as fast," Ferry said.
Henderson recommended that Ferry return on Thursday evenings at 7 to join in the weekly free open jam session, where as many as 85 fans and musicians have gathered to pluck fiddles, mandolins, acoustic guitars, banjos and bass guitars.
Henderson, guitarist of the house namesake, the Bluegrass Parlor Band, has encouraged his promising students, some as young as 10 or 11, to join the band when playing at bluegrass festivals.
Among the more unusual items he stocks are thumb picks, folk songbooks, 45 rpm records on his own "This is Bluegrass" independent recording label, Dobro guitars, and the five-string, not the four-string, banjo. He takes time to explain that the steel-faced Dobro is a precursor of amplified guitars and to tell the history of the five-string banjo, the only original American instrument, descended from a one-string gourd played by slaves.
"Time means nothing," Henderson said, "if you're talkin' bluegrass."