In May of 1952, as a high-school kid who loved guitars, I traveled to the small town of Mt. Airy, Md., halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to see Mac Wiseman perform in person. At the time, Mac had only a few Dot Records being played on the radio. I was attracted to his clear, unique tenor voice and, of course, his guitar playing.
My life changed in a huge way that evening. I was blown away by his voice and his band that included Ed Amos on banjo and Jim Williams on mandolin. I had never listened closely to how great a banjo could sound in a band but that night, Ed Amos did a masterful job, especially in his very original backup fills.
The very next day, I borrowed a five-string from a friend of mine and I have been playing banjo continuously to this day. Ed Amos lost his life in 1955 in an automobile accident while doing a U.S. Army tour in the Northwest U.S. I have no doubt he would have gone on to be recognized as one of the best banjo pickers anywhere. Jim Williams was a fine singer and mandolin player who blended well with Mac’s tenor and went on to record with the Stanley Brothers on many of their early recordings, playing the mandolin.
I started out immediately practicing the banjo mainly by listening to records. On one hot day in August of 1954, I traveled to Warrenton, Va., as Mac was there that day making a personal appearance. He and I were introduced by Don Owens, a very popular radio personality in Northern Virginia. Mac asked me to do an impromptu audition in the parking lot and hired me on the spot, but not before giving me some good advice. He said, “I’m hiring you to help me sound good and, by that, I mean no upstaging and no overly-flashy licks. Keep it basic and try to play backup fills that fit what I’m singing. Do that, and I will do all I can to sell you to the audience when it’s your turn to move in front of the mic.” By the time I joined Mac in his band, he was already moving upward in his career and was the headliner on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Va. We were still working movie theaters, etc., including a few drive-in movies where we played on the roof of the projection booth/refreshment stand. People in their cars would blow their horns at the end of a song for applause. Read entire article »