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1996 Inductee – Eddie Adcock
Born: June 21, 1938, Scottsville, VA
Instrument: Banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, Dobro
“My brother brought instruments home and I’d try them.Thank you, Bill, for giving me a life of poverty.”
200 songs and instrumentals, including:
- Listening with his family to the Grand Ole Opry, Wheeling Jamboree, and the Old Dominion Barn Dance on radio.
- “Pulling the curtain” for Hank Williams, the Carter Family and others at Scottsville’s Victory Theater.
- Playing duets with his brother Frank and with the James River Playboys.
- “I didn’t pattern myself after anybody.”
Came to Fame with
- Classic Country Gentlemen, 1958-70.
- Smokey Graves & His Blue Star Boys, 1955-56
- Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, 1957-58
- The Clinton Special, 1970
- II Generation, 1971-1980
- Eddie and Martha Adcock, 1980 to present
- Mac Wiseman, Bill Harrell, Buzz Busby, David Allan Coe, The Masters, Adcock-Gaudreau-Waller & Gray (Country Gentlemen Reunion Band)
Led the Way
- Three-time Grammy nominee
- One of the first “new grass” musicians to introduce rock, blues and folk elements into bluegrass
By the Way
- Set two track records at Manassas VA drag racing track
- Played banjo while undergoing surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2008
“Remember me ‘as a leader, not a follower.’”
Eddie taught himself to play string instruments as a kid growing up on a farm near Charlottesville, Virginia. Music, he says, gave him a chance to get off the farm where he was “throwing hay bales. Playing banjo is easier than that.” When he heard Smokey Graves wanted a five string banjo player for his band, The Blue Star Boys, Eddie sold a calf to buy a banjo and spent two weeks learning to play it before he auditioned.
Smokey Graves was popular in Scottsville where Eddie worked at the Victory Theater. Before television, “people didn’t have much entertainment,” he said. “Smokey did rock ‘n’ roll, R & B, bluegrass and country and pop, all in one package. He would pack the theater twice. Hank Williams would fill it twice. Everybody else would fill it once.
“Smokey was a leader, not a follower. Some people have to create. They are not the ones who wait until the masses grasp something. The creators move on to something else. Smokey stayed ahead of the time. I think Smokey is the reason I am the way I am, today.”
Eddie’s distinctive and innovative banjo playing led to stints with Mac Wiseman and Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, before he joined The Country Gentlemen in early 1959. The group’s fresh approach-Eddie calls it “early new grass”-attracted new listeners to bluegrass music during the 1950s and 1960s folk music revival. “My style was not normal for the banjo forty years ago,” he says. He tried classic hymns, show tunes, and guitar licks on the banjo. “Technician-ship was my prime concern then.”
The road looms large in a musician’s life, and the freeway system was in its infancy when he started his career. Eddie recalls traveling U.S. Highway 40 when it was too narrow for two vehicles to pass, the average speed was 35 mph, and roadside services were scarce. “It took six hours to get to the next food stop, even back East. Hotels were just in cities. There were a few bed and breakfast places, but you could go 200 miles without seeing one. There was a lot of sleeping in the car. Thank God for Vienna sausages. They kept us going.”
Eddie started his own bands when he left The Country Gentlemen: the short-lived Clinton Special in 1970, and the II Generation (one of the first and most influential newgrass groups) which performed together from 1971 to 1980. Martha Hearon joined the group in 1973 and the two married in 1976. Today, they perform as a duo.
When Eddie looks back, he recalls teaching himself to play. “That was the only way I had! I played until my fingers bled,” he said. He suggests beginning musicians get the basics down and then develop their own style. “Even if they play as well as someone like Earl Scruggs, they’ll never be Earl Scruggs,” he says. “Nothing’s wrong with someone helping you get started. Then back off and let God give you your music.”