Charles Franklin “Buster” Kendrick’s notable achievements in the world of music began in Cleveland County, in the Patterson Springs area when his neighbor’s wife couldn’t get to a concert at the Shelby Armory. Red Foley was scheduled to play with his band when Buster was a young boy and Mrs. Georgia Sutherland across the road was a big fan but she was home bound and could not go. So her husband contacted promoter Grady Cole and asked if she could feed the band that night after the show and meet them. So Buster’s first real exposure to music was in the form of Red Foley leaning up against a kitchen stove singing his hit “New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blond)”. Foley, called Mr. Country Music, was the artist credited with the early success of the Opry due to his own popularity. From that moment on it was music and playing the guitar that took him all the way to Nashville Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry and tours of the country with several big stars.
Buster began playing the guitar with his dad, who knew some chords, but his mother was a musician who played accordion and would hum or play the melodies and signal when to change chords. There was also a fiddle and a five string banjo in the house and Buster learned to play them too. By the time he finished high school he had been playing with several bands including the Teen Timers with Dan Padgett, Mike Lattimore and Bill Allen and also in other bands with Dan and with Bill. At Gardner-Webb College, he jokingly credits jamming with Dan and Earl’s brother Horace Scruggs as the reason he never finished at Gardner-Webb. Horace had a job in maintenance and they would gather to pick in a boiler room instead of studying or going to class.
Two early highlights of Buster's career in music were touring and playing for several years with Jim Owen and meeting and appearing with the duo of Lulu Belle and Scotty when they briefly came out of retirement just before Scotty's passing.
Buster then struck out for his dream of playing music for a living in Nashville. He got work playing guitar for the legendary Cherokee, NC native Clyde Moody was an original Blue Grass Boy, and a member of Wade Mainer’s Sons of the Mountaineers as well as penning “Shenandoah Waltz” and “Cherokee Waltz”.
But to really make it in Nashville you needed to know someone, be at the right place at the right time, and contend with all the others trying to break in to the music. So Buster got a job driving Gray Line tour buses in town. From that job he met Joe Carroll, Grandpa Jones’ guitar player, and others who worked such driving jobs on the side. Buster was asked to sub as a driver for Dave and Sugar who were touring in New England. Buster hadn’t had any experience with a full size coach plus they were pulling a bread truck with their equipment in it. He had to learn fast. As folks began to trust Buster with their lives on the road he was asked to drive for Dottie West (1964 Best Female Vocal Grammy winner and duet partner of Kenny Rogers, Don Gibson, and Jim Reeves). He had a conversation with Dottie and her son where Buster expressed his goal of playing on the Opry. Their solution was that he began playing for Dottie on the Grand Ole Opry and other shows as well as driving the bus for their tours. That relationship lasted until West’s untimely death in 1991. Afterward Buster played for Dottie's daughter, Shelley West.
Buster was a part of Country Music, the Grand Ole Opry, and he met many of the stars of the genre. For about three years he drove Don Williams’ personal tour bus and crisscrossed the country. Back in Cleveland County he met Shaye Smith who was teaching school in Kings Mountain after she had temporarily left her grandmother’s legendary gospel group, the World Famous Chuck Wagon Gang. When she went back to the group she needed a driver and called on Buster who also began playing guitar with them. Here's what Shaye had to say about her friend:
“I met Buster several years before he came to work with the Chuck Wagon Gang. He was driving for a mutual friend of ours, Phil Toney. Buster drove a bus load of my high school students to New York City. All of us fell in love with his kind, gentle personality and easy going nature.
“Several years later the Chuck Wagon Gang was in need of a driver and Buster was there to fill that need. It was during this time that I got to know Buster as the caring and unselfish man he is. Our road schedule is most chaotic and demanding, but no matter the situation, Buster was there. Sometimes we'd find ourselves driving to meet the bus or driving home from a tour in the wee hours of the morning, but Buster never complained. He was always there, ready, willing, and able--the most responsible and dependable fella I've ever worked with.
“An added treat to having Buster drive for you is you get an extra guitar picker for free! What an awesome talent! Wow, we are so blessed to have had him aboard for a year! Buster we love you and are so happy you are receiving this honor!! Congratulations!!”
Buster has seen a lot and played a lot and shared stages with Roy Acuff, Dottie, and Ernest Tubb and Opry guitarist Leon Rhodes. He got his inspiration in his neighbor’s kitchen from the playing and singing of Red Foley, took it far and wide and today remains a humble, friendly man who has great talent and is happy to share his stories of local and national music history. Just the type of person we seek to recognize with the 2013 Art of Sound Heritage Bridge Award.