The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Rob Hendon is a Nashville-based artist whose work hangs all over Music City and beyond.
He started his career in the music business at Capitol Records, and held several executive positions within the Nashville music industry. Having painted off and on since childhood, Hendon returned to painting after a lapse of several years. Through his use of vivid color and extraordinary texture, he quickly garnered the attention of Nashville art lovers. Initially painting beautiful flowers in vases and fields, Hendon found much success and notoriety when he chose guitars as his muse.
Hendon’s name is synonymous with guitars in the art world. His guitar art can be seen in lobbies and conference rooms at companies such as Bridgestone Arena, Warner Brothers Records, Warner Brothers Studios Nashville, Sony Records, Sony Music Publishing, Oceanway Studios, Big Machine Records, BMI Nashville, BMI New York, SESAC, and more. He painted the artwork for Luke Combs‘ What You See Is What You Get album, as well as the artwork for the framed SESAC award.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
North Canton, Ohio. I moved here to go to Lipscomb in ’85. By ’87 I was interning at MCA records. I interned for two years at MCA and Universal Records. I was interning for Jimmy Bowen and James Stroud. Bowen took over Capitol about the week that I graduated from college and I ended up with a full-time A&R job.
What did you do?
I was the tape guy. Then I got to start listening for songs. I went out every night, I loved seeing music. I’m a guitar collector and fanatic, as well as a music fanatic, so the whole thing was right up my alley. My parents weren’t quite sure with my career choice—they may not be still. (Laughs)
What was next?
I had a great run with Bowen and got to be really good friends with James Stroud, too. When I was kicked out of Capitol, which ended up happening to most people, I found Stroud within about a half hour of getting fired. He had left and started Giant Records and he said, “Do you know anything about music publishing?” I said, “I know great publishers and I know great songwriters.” He said, “Let’s start a publishing division of Giant Records.” We started Giant Publishing and signed a couple writers like Daryle Singletary and Tim Johnson. We had success.
How did you start painting?
I’ve always had the bug for music. When we had our son, I didn’t want to go out as much. The jobs I was getting offered weren’t nearly as fun as some of the others. I had started painting out of stress and frustration from the business changing and me being a little older. I literally just started painting in the middle of the night one night. I was driving my wife crazy because I couldn’t sleep well for a couple of years. I’m a worker, I just love working, and business was happening slower. The singles were going up the charts slower and we were going through a whole thing. I was losing my mind. So I did flower paintings for a couple of years. I gave some away, then I started selling paintings and working with a couple galleries.
You’ve become known for your iconic guitar paintings. What inspired that?
I had a bunch of my guitars set up in my studio. I was experimenting with these varnishes and my Les Paul was sitting there. I realized the varnish looked like a guitar varnish. It was the middle of the night and I did one guitar. Now I’ve done thousands of guitars.
It’s really been cool to be in all the lobbies, conference rooms and studios.
You and Brad Paisley painted a mural in Bridgestone Arena together.
I say I discovered Brad as a painter. We were at a charity thing and Brad and I were standing at the back. I had presented a painting for the charity. After I presented it and came back to the back, Brad said, “What are you doing tomorrow? It’s going to be 72 and sunny. I’ve been saving this wall for you by my home studio.” The next day, I loaded up my old Escalade and went over there. We were looking at the wall with Brad, Kim and the boys. He had done this giant T-Rex on the wall with spray paint. I decided to add the guitar so the T-Rex was chomping at the guitar because it wanted a Tele. (Laughs) Brad started helping me. He was so good.
Bridgestone had been asking me to come down and do a wall. I’d been down there twice, looking at walls and talking about it, but I’m not really a spray paint artist. That night after Brad and I painted [the wall in his house], I emailed the Bridgestone guys and said, “I’ve got an idea. How about Brad and I do it?” I showed him the picture of the painting we did. We scheduled it when he could go down there. It was the greatest day. We must have painted for about five or six hours. And that thing has become a classic—it’s wild!
You also got to do the artwork from Luke Combs’ What You See Is What You Get album. How did you get to know him?
Luke came over here. He called me up and I remember where I was standing in the studio. I hadn’t heard of him because he was on his first single. He said, “I just had my first hit and I’ve been waiting to get your art.” I said, “That’s great! You’ll have to come to my studio sometime.” He said, “I’m actually in Green Hills right now.” He came over in five minutes. We just had this great thing. He bought something for him and something for Kappy that day.
That’s the only person I’ve ever painted. I tried to make it funky because I wanted it to be my style and not like a portrait—I can’t do that anyway. I only had about a month to do it. It’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame right now.
What is your favorite part of the process?
I’m always kind of nervous in the creation, but that’s probably what keeps me going. I want them to all be different but all have my style. But the finished product is my favorite part. Seeing it when it’s done. It used to be a little tricky for me to know when to stop. I’m sure record producers deal with that. I could tweak forever on a painting.
In January, you will celebrate 20 years of painting. You’ve done projects for people all over town, from executives to artists to Titans players. What have been some of your most exciting recognitions?
I got contacted by Les Paul. Somebody sought me out from Arizona and bought a couple pieces. They said, “Does Les know about you?” Because I was really just doing Les Paul’s from my Les Paul guitar. They called me back the next day and said, “He wants you to present him a guitar and the Iridium Jazz Club where he plays on Monday nights. He’s 92, so he doesn’t go every week. You might actually go to New York and he not be there.” We went and had a great time. He did a show, then he had a long break, and then he did another show. We took the painting to him and I must have talked to him for an hour. I told him about my grandpa giving me my first real guitar, a Les Paul.
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