About The Artist
He was born in Ashe County, North Carolina, near the Tennessee border. Ballard Taylor was his name. His parents were William and Mary Taylor. He got interested in music at an early age. He learned to pick a home-made banjo while listening to his uncle and father play. His uncle had made it from a cat's hide and a gallon syrup can. But the banjo was not to be the instrument he would be known for.
Another instrument was to be the instrument he would be known for. His mother sold ten pounds of goose feathers to buy Ballard a fiddle from an old man when Ballard was 18. He noted in a 1989 interview that he got two bows and the fiddle for ten dollars.
In 1918, the family moved to an area near Adair and Casey counties in Kentucky.
Ballard told a Bowling Green newspaper in 1989 that he would work ten hours a day in the fields for 50 cents a day and dinner. But on Saturday nights, he would play the local square dances and make three dollars in just three hours.
In 1928, at the age of 20, Ballard set out to find his way in the entertainment world. He went to the Covington, Kentucky area, just over the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. He went to radio station WLW and got himself on a show on Sunday nights. One article we have in in our collection notes that he was with the Tennessee Ramblers group while at WLW. He worked there about a year before moving to radio station WCKY in 1929 and began a country music show (or was it a hillbilly music show back in that era?). He was known then as the "Carolina Troubadour". At WCKY, he was part of a group known as "The Southern Hobos".
Ballard won an old time fiddlers contest in McKinney, Kentucky in 1932. His competition was ten other fiddlers. Around the same time, he met up with Frank Lewis, a champion five string banjo player.
In 1933 or 1934, Ballard joined the Kentucky Mountaineers (we don't know if this was the group called Uncle Henry's Original Kentucky Mountaineers) group and they toured the south playing in the usual venues of the day - theaters, schools and nightclubs, while charging an admission price of twenty-five cents. This group appears to have been located in Rockford, Illinois in 1934 according to a National Hillbilly News feature article.
After the Rockford stint, he went to radio station WLAP in Lexington, Kentucky. Somewhere around this time, he left the music and radio business for about four years. Then he went to Chicago and joined the Kentucky Mountaineers again.
The 1940s found Ballard a part of the Supper Time Frolics show heard over WJJD in Chicago with Uncle Henry's Original Kentucky Mountainners. Around this time, he played the character of "Grandpappy Nerit" and the name stuck with him. The character wore wire-rim glasses, a white wig and beard to play the part of an 'old man'.
In fact, "Grandpappy" wrote a letter to the editors of National Hillbilly News that appeared in the May 1946 issue. He told readers they could hear him over the Supper Time Frolic show from 5:00pm to 7:30pm in the evening over WJJD. He also told readers that Uncle Henry and the Kentucky Mountaineers were to do "another bunch of recordings" for Capitol Records. He also told readers about a 'goose harness' if they were interested. He stated, "...I advertise them over the radio. My Goose Harness comes in assorted colors, with collars to match. I also, will send a Hoover campaign button with each set of naress as long as they last. (That's a joke, son!)
In 1948, National Hillbilly News reported that readers could send their subscription requests to Grandpappy Nerit at WROM in Rome, Georgia. The Billboard magazine told readers in 1948 that Grandpappy Nerit was one of the artists on the Broadcast record label.
In early 1948, Grandpappy Nerit was working with the Franklin Brothers over WROM in Rome, Georgia. They had moved there after working at KLCN in Blytheville, Arkansas. Jimmy Raines and Evy Lou were also with the group at that time.
In 1951, Ballard and his Grandpappy Nerit character was on a six week tour on the "Kemp Circuit" with the Grand Ole Opry comedy duo Jamup and Honey.
Mr. Taylor 'officially' retired from the musical touring as an entertainer in 1965. But that does not mean he put down his fiddle. In 1989, at the age of 81, he was to perform with his brother Tommy Taylor at the 16th Annual College of Traditional Music at Berea College.
Credits & Sources
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