Call of the Valley: Andy Gwynn brings music to Black Mountain

Shelly Frome
Special to Black Mountain News
Black Mountain resident Andy Gwynn grew up in Eden.

Thinking back over his journey as a singer/songwriter, Andy Gwynn likes to reach for his acoustic guitar first as a way of getting into the mood. On this occasion, the song he chose was  “Here and Now.” And the rolling chords and lyrics expressed a romantic yearning as he sang, “You know I’d really love to love you, if you could only show me how.” Presently, the song became an attempt to get a little closer to something elusive just beyond his reach “in the here and now.”

As the last chord faded away, he began to recall growing up in tiny Eden, an old cotton mill town close to the Virginia line where he played football for Morehead High. Though he was a lineman and linebacker, he was always too undersized to eventually succeed.

“Though I didn’t come from a musical family, at the same time, I always had music inside of me," Gwynn said. "In fact I tried out for the glee club in the ninth grade just because I needed that kind of outlet. I had a great teacher by the name of Duane Best who maintained the highest standard of excellence.”

Quite by accident, he then began playing the harmonica with a group of high school friends and discovered it fit in quite well with bluegrass music. This led to an interest in guitar chords, the gift of old beat-up guitar and the rest, as the story goes, was history.

Musician Andy Gwynn says of being inspired by the Black Mountain surroundings, "I love to pick up my guitar, sit out on my porch and play among the trees with the birds singing."

After perfecting the acoustic chord changes, Gwynn enrolled at Davidson College, joined another group of fellow travelers, and played Neil Young and James Taylor songs all around the campus. He also later got together with an old acquaintance and began playing similar gigs at bars, restaurants and coffeehouses to make a little money.

He met his wife, Mary Hay Gwynn, at Davidson, and they were together for 22 years. By the time she died in the year 2002, he had written a great deal of instrumental music and they had raised two children, Lisle and Emelyn.

“As a way of dealing with my grief back then, I started to write my own songs as if they had already existed and I just needed to write them down," Gwynn said. "One of the earliest ones was ‘Welcome to the Mystery.’ It’s useless to struggle when you’re confronted with the mystery of life. You’ll never figure it out. All you can do is move forward with it. Once again I had this stuff that I needed to get out somehow. It was all contemplative and close to the heart. And I did  want to express it, bring it into being and leave something behind.”

And here is the chorus to that ever-present difficulty of making connections when, once again, things are out of reach: “Did I see you in the distance? Did you never hear my call? Did I lose you in the distance? Were you ever there at all?”

Over the past years, Gwynn has added instrumental compositions to his repertoire that have gradually become more explorative, meditative and peaceful. There was also a period when he got together with Donna Marie Todd and incorporated his songs and appropriate music with her storytelling as they performed at churches and various venues.

Andy Gwynn says of living in Black Mountain: "I’m just part of it and I fit right in. I’d never want to live anywhere else.”

Lately, he’s had an integral part in creating an early Sunday alternative musical service at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church called First Light. Because of COVID, however, he’s had to limit other opportunities to “play out.” But, no matter what, he feels he always has Black Mountain.    

“I grew up in a small town like Black Mountain," Gwynn said. "We were used to it, and that was one reason my late wife and I wanted to move here. Also, we first noticed this tremendous sense of community and the Craggy Mountains in the distance. The beauty always continues to inspire me. I love to pick up my guitar, sit out on my porch and play among the trees with the birds singing. I’m just part of it and I fit right in. I’d never want to live anywhere else.”