@story Jim Martin
@images Sharon Martin
Terry Anderson was a “Guitar Hero” before the phrase was even coined. He’s been featured on hit records, toured the world, and as the owner of Fort Smith’s Ben Jack Guitar Center, has influenced more local guitarists than can be counted. He‘s a tenacious businessman, a brilliant musician, and one of the most personable people you could ever meet. He was there when rock ‘n’ roll was born and has the scars to prove it.
Raised in Harrison, Arkansas, Terry was seven years old when his mother died leaving him, his brother, and their father on their own. With no TV, he developed an affinity for early rock ‘n’ roll while sitting by the family radio. He was at a restaurant with his dad when he decided he could play too. “I see it as clearly now as I did then,” Terry says. “They had a TV, tuned into ‘Ozark Mountain Jubilee,’ when Carl Perkins came on wearing a slick tailored suit, blue suede shoes, and carrying a gold-top Les Paul. My eyes must have been as big as silver dollars.”
Terry started out on a ukulele. In 1955, his brother found a Stella guitar packed away in their father’s closet. They later learned it had belonged to their mother who bought it in 1929. From that moment on, it was all Terry thought about. “It never seemed like work or practice,” he says. “It was so much fun it was all I wanted to do.”
He began playing with a neighbor who was also into music, eventually leading to his first paying job. “We were told we could play at a local hang-out for ten dollars,” Terry says. “I thought we had to pay him, and I gladly would have.” He knew he had found his calling.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he says. “I’ve never really had to look for work.” A friend, living in Springfield, offered the underage Terry a job playing six nights a week. Though the college town had a lot of clubs, they were able to draw the biggest crowds by keeping an up-to-date repertoire of the day’s Top 40 hits.
He’d been there two years when he was offered a spot in R.C. Gamble’s band. It was an opportunity to go on the road, and possibly make a record. Terry agreed. The excitement did not last, but it still made for some good stories, like the time he was first carded in a Wisconsin bar. Most bartenders assumed that as a member of the band, he was of legal age. When asked for I.D., eighteen-year-old Terry found himself at a loss for words. “Of course, he’s twenty-one,” said the drummer, saving the day. “You can’t go on the road if you’re not twenty-one.” The bartender shrugged, handing Terry his drink.
His first recording session was on a rock arrangement of “Flight Of The Bumble Bee.” “Some record executive had the idea of taking classical songs and messing them up,” Terry laughs. Calling their version “Bumble Boogie,” the record company also had a new name for the band. They became “Bee Bumble and the Stingers,” with R.C. donning the role of Bee.
“Bumble Boogie” did so well on the US charts, they were asked to record a rock version of the “Nutcracker Suite.” While only reaching number sixteen in the US, “Nut Rocker” was a number one hit in England. When told they were going to tour there, they didn’t believe it. They had heard enough broken promises to be skeptical. Somehow though, this one panned out and before they knew it, the band was on a plane headed overseas. Terry was nineteen.
Their first shows were in a small club in Liverpool called The Cavern. It was located in a downtown basement with leaky pipes lining the concrete walls. He remembers being surprised by the quality of performance of the opening act, a local quartet known as The Beatles. “If only I had known,” he says. “I would have stuck with those guys. I would have carried their equipment, swept their floors, whatever they wanted.” The Beatles had just released a single on a local label, “Love Me Do.” “It was different,” Terry says. “I liked it, so I bought it. I still have it.”
After touring overseas, the band members went their separate ways. “Actually,” Terry says, “that particular group of guys never played together again.” He was back in Harrison, playing dates with friends, when R.C. called on him once again. “He’d found a regular gig in Fort Smith,” Terry says. “He wanted me to play, and of course I wanted to. We had the same tastes in music, had the same sense of humor. We never had a problem getting along.”
Terry was commuting between Harrison and Fort Smith when he learned another band had tried contacting him through a local music store. The MC’s, featuring the McClellen brothers, Tommy and Lee, were professionals from the get-go, insisting that band members wear matching suits and always keep a smile on their face while on stage. Terry stopped by Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club to audition, was hired, and was off to Toronto, Canada, to join in a thriving early-sixties club scene based around Rockabilly music. They weren’t the only Arkansans there.
Conway Twitty was playing down the street, while Ronnie Hawkins was on the next block. “Ronnie was a showman. He had two keyboard players, one who sang just like Ray Charles. The guitarist set his amp with the speaker pointing straight at the ceiling. One night, someone came in saying Ronnie’s band had left him. Not just one or two guys, but the whole band.” It wasn’t until later with the release of “Music From Big Pink” that he realized Ronnie’s band was “The Band.”
Terry worked with the MC’s about six months. He left the band, and after some active duty with the Army Reserves, came back to settle in Fort Smith, resuming his position with Bee.
They were playing at Hugh’s Lounge drawing a good-sized crowd three nights a week. It was there he met the love of his life, Trish. “She was from Wewoka, Oklahoma,” he says. “She was staying with her sister when she heard the Stingers were in Fort Smith.” She was on a date when she came in. She and Terry met, and they’ve been together ever since. When Hugh decided to sell the lounge, it was Trish who suggested R.C. buy it. She also suggested he change the name to the Beehive, giving the Stingers a permanent place to play.
In 1965, steel guitar master Ben Jack opened a music store in Fort Smith. “I knew I was going to marry Trish,” Terry says. “I needed a job more steady than just playing music. I remember walking in the store and seeing more guitars than I’d ever seen in my life. That made an impression on me.” He introduced himself to Ben and was offered a job giving lessons. “I told him I’d never had a lesson. I didn’t have a clue about how to give one.” He started anyway, and in August of 1966, he and Trish were married.
Before long, Terry was running the store. “Ben would run errands,” he says, “leaving me there for hours at a time. That’s how I learned the business.” When Ben opened a store in Fayetteville, Terry bought half of the Fort Smith store. Ten years after that, he bought the other half, reserving the right to keep the name.
Today, Terry is a family man still happily married to Trish. They have two daughters and two grandchildren. He still operates the music store carrying the same name, Ben Jack Guitar Center. He still plays a bit, recently sitting in with local legends, the Cabbageheads. Stop in his store, located in Stonewood Village on Rogers Avenue, and he is quick to greet you with a smile, sage advice, and if you’re lucky, he may even share a story from the days when rock ‘n’ roll was born.
When asked if he has advice for those starting out, Terry looks up and winks. “There’s only one way to make a small fortune in the music business,” he says, a mischievous grin on his face. “And that’s to start with a big fortune.”