I’m something of an audiophile and couldn’t let International Guitar Month slip by without creating a list of famous North Carolina musicians who have graced the airwaves. This is a list I certainly enjoyed creating and hope you enjoy it as much as I did creating it.
1. James Taylor — While Sweet Baby James wasn’t born in North Carolina, we heavily associate him due to the time he lived here and the one song that brings me to tears each time I hear it, “Carolina in my Mind.” In this video he explains that he wrote the tune due to homesickness and that is all we need to know. He’s a Carolina Boy. He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
2. Ben Folds — Ben is a multi-talented Winston-Salem native who plays all of the instruments on the song I’m sharing next “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” The littles in your life will recognize this tune from the movie “Over the Hedge.” He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
3. Blind Boy Fuller — It would not be a list without adding Wadesboro, NC’s own Blind Boy Fuller. An American blues guitarist and vocals, he was one of the most popular of the recorded Piedmont blues artists. I particularly enjoy this track as it sounds like multiple guitar tracks were layered, but that technology did not exist until the 1950’s. He got his name after going blind in 1928 due to the long-term effects of untreated neonatal conjunctivitis.
4. Doc Watson — I grew up listening to bluegrass and it is the music of my soul. I am thankful to have watched Doc Watson perform more times than I can count. Born in Deep Gap, NC, and an eye infection caused him to loose his sight before his first birthday.
According to Watson on his three-CD biographical recording Legacy, he got the nickname “Doc” during a live radio broadcast when the announcer remarked that his given name Arthel was odd and he needed an easy nickname. A fan in the crowd shouted “Call him Doc!” presumably in reference to the literary character Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick Doctor Watson. The name stuck ever since.
I’m sharing Doc’s final performance on April 29, 2012, at Merlefest, accompanied by the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Doc was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
5. Edward “Little Buster” Forehand — Little Buster was born in Hereford, NC. He was an immensely talented blues guitarist and soul singer. Like Doc Watson and Blind Boy Fuller, he was sighted, but developed glaucoma at age of three. By the time his vision was completely gone, he was fluent on six instruments, including the guitar. His music is evocative of the 60’s sound and makes you want to snap your fingers and sway along.
6. Elizabeth Cotten — Born in Chapel Hill, Cotten was a self-taught left-handed guitarist. “Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as ‘Cotten picking’.” If you love finger picking on the guitar, you’re in for a treat.
7. Etta Baker — Another great Piedmont Blues guitarist was Etta Baker, born in Caldwell County, NC. She played both the 6-string and 12-string forms of the acoustic guitar, as well as the five-string banjo. Baker played the Piedmont Blues for ninety years, starting at the age of three. Her skill, like Elizabeth Cotten’s leaves me a little breathless.
8. Tal Farlow — Self-taught jazz guitarist Farlow was from Greensboro, NC. “Nicknamed the “Octopus”, for his extremely large hands spread over the fretboard as if they were tentacles, he is considered one of the all-time great jazz guitarists.” He learned how to play on a ukelele which influenced his playing throughout his career. I’ve only recently started listening to the work of Farlow, but find it a refreshing change from some of the other jazz artists I have on heavy rotation.
9. Warren Haynes — I’d be remiss not add Asheville’s Warren Haynes. As founding member of Gov’t Mule and long time guitarist of the Allman Brother, he’s also spent time playing with David Allan Coe, Dickey Betts, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. I’m sharing my favorite Allman Brothers songs with Haynes performing, “Jessica.”
10. Chuck Brown — Born in Gastonia, NC, Chuck Brown was the “Godfather of Go-Go,” a funk music sub genre originating in the Washington, DC, area. If you want some amazing music that will get a crowd out on the dance floor, play Chuck Brown and dare them not to dance. Here’s Chuck performing at the 9:30 club in Washington, DC.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at North Carolina guitarists, but is a snippet of the great musical talent from the Old North State. Share your favorite North Carolina guitarists and musicians in the comments.