About The Artist
Raymond Fairchild gained considerable fame as the "King of the Smoky Mountain Banjo Players." An unusual and unique character in many respects, Fairchild showed little emotion on stage, talked little, and sang little if any. About the only part of him that moved at all were his fingers. In his earlier years, one of his band members did most of the talking during his shows, but eventually Raymond did more talking as the years went by. Off stage, however, he often attracted numerous fans who loved to hear his stories and opinions about his rugged life in the mountains and views on modern living.
A native of the Smoky Mountain area, Raymond grew up near or on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation and was himself part Native American. He apparently had little formal schooling, but became quite wise in the ways of nature and also learned to make and consume large quantities of "moonshine," but eventually gave it up for music. He first took an interest in the guitar, but in the late 1950's took up the five-string banjo and thereafter seldom touched a guitar.
He drew his main inspiration from Earl Scruggs and to a lesser extent from Don Reno. As the town of Maggie Valley began to develop, Fairchild was often seen playing his banjo with a jar beside him in which listeners could place tips. His favored tune was "Whoa Mule" which he picked in a highly individualistic manner.
His first recording, a banjo album on the Sims label, displayed his talents, but was poorly promoted and attracted little attention. More banjo albums on Uncle Jim O'Neal's Rural Rhythm Records did much better. As Raymond began to play out of his area more often, he had competent backup from those of his home region.
However, no matter how much attention he gained for his banjo skills, Raymond needed band members who could sing. He found them about 1977 with two brothers from Rabun Gap, Georgia named Wallace (Josh) and Wayne Crowe who could sing Louvin style duets and provide accompaniment on guitar and bass. They toured and recorded together, but still each managed to maintain a separate identity. Also in 1977 Raymond made his first of several guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. At times his son Zane also worked in his band.
Raymond was known as a banjo player, but he termed a "genuine mountain character." That led to Tom T. Hall writing a song called "The World According to Raymond;" it was on his "Soldier of Fortune" album.
Columnist Bob Terrell told readers in 1981, that Rayond was a regular guest on the Grand Ole Opry. He was reportedly contracted to appear six times a year, but was often on the Opry up to a dozen times a year. Mr. Terrell also noted that Dr. Nat Winston, a Nashville psychiatrist, was trying to arrange to have him do an album with the Chattanooga Symphony noting, "it wold be the greatest thing since peanut butter."
His first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry was in 1978. Nat Winston took him to the Opry one evening and got him to do an impromptu concert in Roy Acuff's dressing room. Soon the room filled with other Opry stars - Roy Acuff, Jack Greene, the Wilburn Brothers, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Monroe, Archie Campbell, Bill Carlisle and Billy Grammer. He was invited by Hal Durham to do a guest appearance. Raymond brought the crowd to its feet with his version of "Whoa, Mule, Whoa!"
He became a friend of Tom T. Hall - was invited to a New Year's Eve party at Mr. Hall's home. Raymond told Mr. Terrell he visited with Tom T. a lot. "He's become one of my fans and friends."
Mr. Terrell told readers that "His style is distinctive; he developed it himself. He never took a lesson, doesn't read music, but composes a lot of his own pieces. When Raymond plays a song, he plays every fret on the neck of the banjo, behind the bridge, and on the head. He thumps and plucks and bangs and takes off in any of several different directions, and the Crowe brothers pound along behind him."
Readers also learned that Raymond used a 1918 model of the Gibson banjo. Raymond says he got it from Panhandle Pete's son. He reportedly was thinking of using another banjo at his appearance - an 1895 Leedy, made of heavy, gold-plated brass. Raymond noted, "A feller in Georgia gave it to me. He said his wife got tired of sweeping around it and he thought I could put it to good use."
About 1988, Fairchild built his own theater — Maggie Valley Opry House — which and his wife Shirley (married in 1965) operated and hired other musicians to play when Raymond was on the road. Raymond was a regular performer at the theater for over 30 years.
Somewhere along the line Raymond joined the local Masonic Lodge, the Scottish Rite and Oasis Shrine Temple in Charlotte and played often for Shrine benefits and St. Jude's Childhood Cancer Research Hospital.
As he grew older, he toured less and played at his home base more often. Raymond also added non-traditional tunes to his recorded repertoire such as "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise."
He was badly injured in a tractor accident in 2017 and thereafter experienced increasing health problems. He left a large legacy of recorded banjo tunes.
Credits & Sources
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