In a morning ritual, David Andersen polishes his guitar and puts new strings on it, then summons a higher power.
“I pray every day that I can touch someone's heart,” he says.
Andersen has become the friendly face of Nashville, greeting thousands of tourists every year who visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He strolls around the facility's atrium, playing his 15-year-old Epiphone wireless while chatting with visitors.
In this city of guitars and grits, Andersen is the ambassador of pickin' and grinnin'.
This summer's tourist season marks his seventh anniversary at the glistening hall of fame, where he claims to have met 1 million people. Don't believe him? He faithfully keeps a journal signed by those he's met. With annual visitors of about 500,000, the figure is possible.
“This is my lifetime dream,” Andersen said recently, tears forming as he played “You Are My Sunshine.” A true multitasker, he can walk, play and carry on a conversation at the same time. His nimble fingers dance along the neck of the guitar as he asks visitors where they're from, what they want to hear and even provide tidbits of information about the song they requested.
With his gentle manner and soft voice, he'd make a great no-pressure insurance salesman. For sure, he's a Chamber of Commerce dream. In fact, the mayor's office calls on him to perform at civic events.
On a recent day, Andersen moved about the hall of fame – cherished guitar in hand – playing whatever the visitors wanted to hear. He's taken more requests than Casey Kasem.
“The magic is in the people,” he proclaims after handing out souvenir guitar picks to most of them. “I am so fortunate to meet people from all over the world and play for them.”
On this day, he plays “Waltzing Matilda,” explaining: “It's for the Australians here because it's their national anthem.”
There also were some Canadians visiting, and Andersen noted: “They speak French better than English, but I could understand that they wanted to hear some Elvis.” Always accommodating, he played “I Can't Help Falling in Love.”
A few days later, four visitors from Tasmania returned for their fifth tour of the hall, and brought Andersen a koala bear toy to rekindle a relationship forged in past years.
“It's amazing to see the world come here,” he says. “You give people what they want and what they need.”
Last year the hall had about 22,000 foreign visitors representing 33 countries. Most were from the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Australia and Austria.
Richard Kraetsch of Hobe Sound, Fla., heard Andersen play while with a tour group at the hall.
“My wife asked for ‘Spanish Eyes' and he played it right on the spot – beautifully,” Kraetsch said. “Maybe I'll get that good some day.”
‘You've got a golden tone'
Andersen, who lists his age as “over 40,” celebrated his 2,000th show at the hall a year ago. He's also performed for some 20 hall of fame induction ceremonies.
Along the way, he's garnered these comments from his idols:
“Kid, you've got a golden tone.” – Les Paul.
“I love your pickin', son.” – Earl Scruggs.
“You must know a million chords.” – Chet Atkins.
Those accolades are payoffs for persistence. Andersen practices 45 minutes every morning, “because I have to. I practice the fundamentals, the scales.”
For his first five years at the hall, he played seven days a week.
Andersen, a native of Long Beach, Calif., began playing at age 2, or as he puts it, “I could play before I could talk.”
In a flash of independence, he opted not to take lessons, using only two instructional books, because “I wanted people out of the way.”
His early career began in Los Angeles as a songwriter and studio musician. As a performer, he opened live shows for Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits and others.
These days, it's strumming and schmoozing at country music's shrine.
“He's a fixture here,” says Kyle Young, the hall's director. “He loves this place and the people who visit. He remembers their names when they come back.”
Asked how many songs he knows, Andersen says, without meaning to be boastful, “It must be thousands.”
“Not a day goes by that they don't ask for a Hank Williams (Sr.) song,” Andersen says.
Do they ask for “Free Bird”?
“Yes, but not as many as you think.”