Carroll Durrer with his 1939 Gibson.
In a few months, Carroll Durrer will turn 90. While most men his age are taking it easy and enjoying their later years, Burrell is rocking something different than a chair. He is wowing crowds as he shreds his guitar, with fellow Rivah Notes bandmates at their own respective instruments, as they bring down the house at twice-monthly concerts played at River Meadows in Warsaw.
Durrer comes from a family deeply rooted in music. His father played harmonica and grandfather was a master on the Banjo.
In 1939, at 7-years-old, Durrer picked up his first guitar, a Sears-Roebuck model, learning to play by ear.
By the time he was 15, he was playing at clubs, including Tantella Gardens, a club above a bowling alley on W. Broad Street in Richmond.
Durrer spent his summers working at an icehouse, with Saturdays spent in the woods looking for Shoumack.
“There is a chemical in those leaves that caused dye in clothes to sit and not fade,” Durrer said, adding that the money from selling the leaves helped his family and allowed him to go out and have pin money.
“Back then we had two steer and we’d ride them to church on Sunday when I lived in Gordonsville,” Durrer said with a wistful look in his eyes. “Children nowadays don’t understand what being a real kid is.”
Durrer attended Chester HS, now Thomas Dale, where Maybell Carter taught him music.
Her daughter, June Carter, who later married Johnny Cash, was a good friend with his sister and they attended school together.
“Any of us that played music belonged to Buck Jones’ Music Club and June’s mom would play, I would play my guitar and June would sing with us,” Durrer said, adding that he loves to play many types of music but loves what he calls “Redneck music.”
Durrer graduated from Chester in 1942 and went on to join the Navy where he fought in World War II eventually going back to the private sector in 1946.
It was then that he lost touch with his music, instead focusing on his career.
After service he went on to work for Sears Roebuck and was their first Richmond employee at their W. Broad store.
During his 12 year employment there, he attended night school and went on to work for Xenith in Chicago, where he stayed for 28 years as a technician.
In 1947, Durrer married first wife, Annette Seay, who passed away 14 years later unexpectedly. They had four children, three girls and one boy. Tragically, their son died at 22-years-old due to complications from diabetes.
He was married to his second wife Mary Williams for eight years before she passed from cancer.
His last love was Martha Nunnaly, mother of local icon Dianne Thorn.
“I kissed her in 3rd grade in school and from there that was it, I loved her,” Durrer said.
The two lost touch, however, during the war and it was 58 years before the couple found each other again.
“We saw each other at my mother’s funeral. I saw Dianne and asked her what her mother was doing, and Dianne said “Go for it,’” Durrer said.
Durrer keeps Martha’s high school graduation picture on his kitchen table, noting her “beautiful smile and heart.”
“We had a good time together and she certainly had a good mind of her own,” Durrer said.
It was through Martha that Durrer reconnected with his love for music.
“I hadn’t played any since the 1950s but Agnes, the clerk of the Tappahannock Court who filled out Martha’s and mine marriage license…she and I got to talking,” Durrer said. “Agnes plays guitar, violin and sings. Together with Rick Flaherty, who plays the stand-up Bass and Ed Robinson, who played harmonica, guitar and also sang, we formed the beginning of our group.”
Durrer, who lives in an apartment near Rappahannock Community College, realized something special was happening as he began playing again.
Surrounded by guitars of all makes and models, Durrer showed one of his two favorites, a 1939 Gibson, that has a certain bend and angle to the wood allowing a resonance and full sound that needs no amplification and his 1892 Concertone 17-fret tenor banjo.
“This is the hardest instrument,” Durrer said of his Concertone. “There are 39 ways to tune it and adding to that, you can get 129 more notes out of this than a piano.”
Smiling, Durrer picked up his instrument, picking like a pro despite a severe wrist injury that requires surgery and has left his hand almost completely numb.
“This thing makes some music, it is what my wrist went out on at our last show,” Durrer said.
Durrer, who uses a walker to get around added that “if it weren’t for these legs I’d feel like I was in my 60s, or maybe younger!”
According to Durrer, although Rivah Notes started with just three members, it now boasts over 20 members, including Andrew Magruder, the youngest member at 15-years-old who plays the violin.
“I enjoy seeing all the people we play for at River Meadows,” Durrer said. “Even though many are younger and in much worse shape than I am, they enjoy the music and that
is more gratifying than words can express.”
Durrer, who will turn 90-years-old this March, said he feels incredibly lucky to be a part of such a wonderful band.
“I got to get a second childhood,” he said.
The group plays the second and fourth Thursday of every month at River Meadows, 7 p.m. with a small free buffet.
“We normally play until around 9 or 9:30 p.m., unless we get carried away and then we have been known to play until 11 p.m.,” Durrer said. “I just love doing music but I still work on computers and donate them to the Salvation Army for the needy.”
Durrer added that his mother once told him that as long as he is alive, he has to do something constructive.
“You never get too old to play, whether it is music or anything…period.” Durrer said. “We play for the community and it is something that makes each of our hearts in the band happy. I am just thankful to be able to do something that I love.
“This is a small town and anyone can come. We always have an open mic if someone wants to join us.”