WEDOWEE - Wedowee native Barry Waldrep moved back home and brought something special back with him.
Owner and president of Banjo.com, Waldrep runs his shop in downtown Wedowee and ships banjos and banjos accessories to customers all over the world. Banjo.com is just what it sounds like: a banjo website. However, the storefront resides right in downtown Wedowee and is open to anyone who wants to stop by.
Banjo.com started out as just a web domain that was purchased originally by John Drummond of Atlanta. Drummond created a storefront using the domain name and ran the store until Waldrep purchased the whole business in 2015. Waldrep continued operation in Atlanta for a short time but has now happily returned to his hometown. Banjo.com is the number one banjo dealer in North America and sells high-quality banjos ranging from $489 to $50,000. The store is stocked with 300 banjos, and customers fly in from all over the country and spend the day playing banjos to decide what they want.
When asking Waldrep what brought him back home to Alabama, he states, "We decided as a family to move back to Wedowee in 2016. Banjo.com being the business that it is (mainly a web business) is actually what truly allowed us to move back here. I also thought Banjo.com really fit well with downtown Wedowee." Waldrep goes on to state that, "Being back in Wedowee has been great. I really love the downtown feel of going to lunch and always seeing someone you grew up with or know and having conversation. Just the whole vibe of downtown Wedowee is really cool, and it's great to be back here."
Waldrep, a musician for nearly all of his life, began performing on stage at the mere age of 7, and has been playing, touring and performing professionally since he was 23. That's 49 years of playing music - you do the math on that one.
Waldrep says many individuals from his school years influenced him and taught him many lessons he carried all through life. He says they were always supportive of his music. Some of those individuals are Nancy Brooks, Coach Ron Watters, Coach Ricky Armstrong, Jimmy McCain, Wayne Wortham, Donna Bailey McKay and Sandra Baldwin. He gratefully makes the statement, "These were all people in high school that were just behind me and pushed me to always do better. Who knows where I would be if it weren't for their support?"
Waldrep adds, "I was a member of the FFA String Band in high school and was always performing for different classes for different teachers - they would pull me out of class to come have me play for their students." Waldrep chuckles when he inserts, "I won't say exactly who though, so I don't get anybody in trouble." (We'll let you all do the guessing on that one.) Nonetheless, the risks these teachers decided to take for the sake of the music just may have been the ticket to push Waldrep to continue working towards his dreams.
Waldrep says purchasing Banjo.com has not only allowed him to move back to his hometown, but to spend more time with his family without the need to go on tours year-round. After many years of 300+ days a year on the road, he is now able to tour at his leisure. And though Waldrep finds deep satisfaction from running his own business, he explains, "I don't ever remember not playing music and will always play music for the rest of my life." With the ability to play just about anything with strings, Waldrep gives his gratitude to God for blessing him with a talent that allows him to live a unique and flexible lifestyle that he loves.
Waldrep's wife, Lesia, may really be the one to thank for his return home. Their marriage in 2014 is what led them to come back to Randolph County. Lesia is also a native of Wedowee and actually was the person Barry wrote his first song with. Lesia's father is Faye Williams, who owned the barbershop that is now the renovated building where Banjo.com is located today. Lesia sells real estate in Wedowee and loves to listen to Barry play music, which can be anywhere from the living room to the Grand Ole Opry.
With Waldrep's rooted emphasis on family, it is no surprise his second-tier employee is none other than his own stepdaughter, Mallorie McGue. McGue has been with Barry for two years and works as the customer service manager. She answers phone calls, ships and packs orders, and reluctantly chuckles she also does, "anything Barry needs me to do."
Mallorie, who is daughter of Lesia Williams Waldrep, states her favorite part of Banjo.com is its location. As briefly aforementioned, Banjo.com resides where McGue's grandfather's barbershop was formerly located. Faye Williams, who was well known in Wedowee, operated his barbershop where Banjo.com is today for over 40 years. McGue explains, "I used to come in here as a kid and my Paw-Paw would give me a piece of bubble gum out of the bubble gum jar, and then he would give me a dime to put in the Coke machine to get a bottle of Coke. I would sit and talk to people while they were waiting to get their hair cut. Every time I walk in the doors to work now, I always feel at home because of that."
Many people can relate to that same feeling. Faye Williams was wonderfully known throughout Randolph County and many surrounding areas. Men and their sons, grandsons, uncles, cousin, and just about anyone would travel from places like LaGrange, Anniston and Carrollton to have their hair cut by Mr. Faye. Rumor has it however that the visits were more for the exceptional wisdom Mr. Faye always poured out while cutting their hair. In fact, when Williams retired after 48 years of service, the Town of Wedowee went so far as to dedicate his retirement day to him personally and deem it as "Oliver Faye Williams Day" in the Town of Wedowee. What a special way to honor Mr. Faye by having his family back in the place he called home for many, many years. Waldrep and McGue look forward to celebrating their first Faye Williams Day in the shop coming up this month. Banjo.com still has a ceiling tile hanging in the office that used to be in the old barbershop and the original Coke machine and barber chair are in the family's possession as well.
McGue, a musician herself, says she hopes to take over the banjo business one day. "I want to run it by myself and do what all Barry has taught me to do. I learn a lot just from being here and listening to Barry," says McGue. Waldrep chimes in adding, "I'm doing stuff that my dad taught me to do, and now I'm getting to teach Mallorie. It's really neat to pass things down to her."
McGue, who sings and plays the guitar, explains that Barry was actually the who one taught her to play. She then laughs, "I don't know how to play the banjo, but I could sell you one!" She goes on to add a more serious note, "It doesn't matter that I can't play, though. I love music of all kinds and anyone that understands music, knows that it's just for the love of music. You could not have any musical talent at all and still love the music."
Upon telling people what they do for a living, Waldrep and McGue tend to get funny head turns when they say that they sell banjos. "Nobody expects you to say that," says McGue. "Barry and I are working towards making banjology a degree at the college level! Ha!" She continues on to a more serious note saying, "When people come in the shop or call us, even if they don't purchase anything, we hope that they have a good experience with us and that they are taken care of no matter what. It's all about the love of music to us and the people we get to meet in the process."
Having worked with artists such as Randy Travis, Oteil Burbridge from the Allman Brothers, Joey and Rory, Zac Brown and John Berry, Waldrep is coming up on his 50th anniversary of playing guitar. He will record an album at the Ricky Skaggs studio in Nashville and will have other guests on the album including his very own employee and family member, Mallorie.
Working at Banjo.com is much more than just a way to pay the bills for these two. It's all about the love of family, the love of a small town and the love of music. Next time you are in the downtown area, be sure to stop by to say hello and pick out a banjo!