Callahan Brothers

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Callahan Brothers

Early country musicians

Madison County

Madison County has a well deserved reputation as a wellspring of musical talent, particularly as the home of accomplished singers of old ballads that trace back to the British Isles. The county has also produced artists who found success in the broader spectrum of country music. Among the earliest were the brother duet of Walter and Homer Callahan.

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Old Fort Mountain Music

Old Fort Mountain Music

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Drake Walsh

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Dan Isaacs

Bluegrass and oldtime musician

Vilas, NC (Watauga County)

Dan Isaacs, a Watauga County native, grew up hearing the sounds of mountain music in his family and community. He became interested in the banjo when he was a boy, listening to his grandfather, Shields Christian. "He played an old-time lick called the frail on his 1926 Gretsch five-string banjo," says Dan, who inherited and still plays the instrument on occasion. "Grandad Christian would sit on the porch and play ‘Cripple Creek,' ‘Johnson Boys,' and all those old-timey tunes, and just frail the daylights out of that banjo," Dan says.

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Jim and Jennie Vance

Bluegrass Musicians and Singers

Crossnore, NC (Avery County)

Born and raised in Crossnore, Jennie Vance grew up in a large hard-working and music-loving family, the twelfth of thirteen children. "After the chores were all done, we'd put on the radio. I listened to the Carter Family from Bristol and the Grand Ole Opry, but what I liked best was the Lone Ranger," says Jennie. A Stella guitar was handed down through each of the siblings in her family. Jennie made a chord chart and taught herself to play from watching an older man who traveled around the community singing old ballads, telling stories, and playing guitar in exchange for lodging and food.

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Drake Walsh

Fiddle, Mandolin, and Harmonica Player

Wilkes County

Drake Walsh started playing banjo when he was about six or seven years old, and he has been playing traditional mountain music ever since then. The son of 1920s RCA and Columbia recording artist, Dock Walsh, Drake always loved the traditional music he heard when he was growing up. He would even risk sneaking out his father's banjo to practice, in spite of his parents' fears that he would break the precious instrument.

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Arthel "Doc" Watson

Guitar and Banjo Player, Singer

Watauga County

Born in Watauga County in 1923 into a musically rich family, Arthel "Doc" Watson spent a lifetime as a performer blending his traditional Appalachian musical roots with bluegrass, country, gospel, and blues creating a unique style and an expansive repertoire. Doc virtually invented the art of playing mountain fiddle tunes on the flattop guitar, influencing countless musicians. He was also a wonderful singer, and he played a two-finger banjo style that is traditional in the region.

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Gilford Williams

Oldtime musician

Robbinsville, NC (Graham County)

Born in Vonore, Tennessee, not far from his current home in Robbinsville, North Carolina, Gilford Williams took up the banjo as a child. "I just took it up, then I'd lay it down," Williams says, describing the way he learned. Though various life events intervened, including time spent in service during World War II, he became an accomplished oldtime musician. He plays two-finger banjo, guitar, harmonica, and fiddle. He is also a singer and is noted for the way he sings the old gospel songs.

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