Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Band Profile; Dock Walsh & The Carolina Tarheels


The Carolina Tar Heels were a short lived but notable Old Time Country String Band who made a series of respected and highly collectible recordings from 1928 to 1932. They were led by Dock Walsh "The Banjo King of The Carolinas" who was born in Lewis Fork North Carolina in 1901 and included veteran musician Clarence Ashley, a guitar/banjo player originally from Bristol Tennessee (born 1895) and on harmonica and guitar either of the brothers Garley or Gwen Foster.
Walsh was a noted pioneer of the "clawhammer" banjo picking style and was also one of the first to record in the three-finger style. He is also believed to have invented a style of playing in a blusier slide style by placing pennies under the bridge and using a knife blade similar to that of blues guitar players like Robert Johnson and Son House. All of which earning the title "Banjo King Of The Carolinas". He was already playing (but not recording) with Gwen or Garley foster as the Carolina Tar Heels since 1925 when Columbia Records talent scout Ralph Peer put them together with Clarence Ashley for some recording sessions in 1928.


Clarence "Tom" Ashley was already an experienced performer who had toured with medicine shows and blackface minstrel show since 1911 and had played with well known fiddler G.B. Grayson. He had done recordings in 1928 for Gennett Records with the Blue Ridge Entertainers with Clarence Green on fiddle and Garley Foster on harmonica.

The Recordings ~ The records made by the Tar Heels are notable from others of the era for not having a fiddle player. The songs range from spare slower numbers like the classic "In the Pines" (sung by Walsh) to ensemble numbers sung by all three and played at a breakneck speed. All featured the banjo as the lead instrument. "In the Pines" was a folk ballad of unknown authorship with the version done by Walsh believed to be the first commercially recorded release. The song became a classic and would later be recorded by Leadbelly, Bill Monroe, Peg Leg Howell, The Louvin Brothers, Osborne Brothers, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb, John Phillips, Long John Baldry, Dave Van Ronk, The Greatful Dead, The Four Pennies, Ralph Stanley, Dolly Parton, Odetta, Gene Clark, Link Wray and more recently Mark Lanegan and Nirvana.


Dissolution ~ After making the Peer recordings the band seems to have essentially ended with Ashley moving on to other projects while the great depression brought an end to much of the industry devoted to rural music. Walsh and the Fosters would continue to perform but Ashley would be the one to have the greatest impact with his rediscovery during the folk revival of the 1960's when he would make several recordings for Smithsonian/Folkways and playing the folk circuit. Walsh would also record for Folkways during the 1960's folk revival. Walsh and Ashley both died in 1967 while Foster died in 1968.
Dock Walsh ~ Banjo/Vocals, Clarence Ashley ~ Guitar or Banjo/Vocals, Garley Foster ~ Harmonica or Guitar/Vocals


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