GROWN MUSIC CELEBRATING THE TRADITIONAL MOUNTAIN MUSIC OF HAYWOOD COUNTY
World According to Raymond
lives in old North Carolina
Raymond Fairchild plays his five-string banjo so lightning fast, youd almost swear its a trick on the ears. Some claim hes the fastest banjo player in the world and hes been won plenty of awards to prove it five consecutive Master of the Banjo Championships, the title of World Champion Banjo Picker and two gold albums for his banjo instrumentals.
Born March 15, 1939 in Cherokee, N.C., Fairchild began playing banjo at the age of 18 with the help of his Aunt Martha, who was self-taught and played the banjo left-handed. She gave him some of his first music lessons and he was hooked on the five-string. Inspired by Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, Fairchild sought to develop his own style of playing. But it wasnt until after the age of 35 that he put together his first band, Raymond Fairchild and the Crowe Brothers, formed in 1975. Combining bluegrass with old-time mountain melodies and country and western tunes, Fairchild perfected a style that has since become known as the Fairchild Style.
has toured through every state in the union and abroad, thrilling audiences
with his fast picking. Collaborating with Jimmy Cox, Fairchild designed
100 gold- and 100 nickel-plated banjos with curly maple wood and gold
engraving. The specially made banjo is known as the Cox/Fairchild banjo.
Raymond Fairchild lives in Canton and performs regularly with his Cox/Fairchild
banjo at the Maggie Valley Opry House in Maggie Valley, N.C.
At 58 years old, he is touted by some as the fastest banjo player in the world and has five consecutive Master of the Banjo Championships.
He can leave listeners wondering how his fingers go so fast while he rarely moves, glancing occasionally at his fingers as they fly up and down the neck of his banjo.
As he plays, Fairchild looks more like someone sitting on the front porch of a backwoods Haywood County cabin playing for fun than someone who has performed for thousands of people all over the world since the 1950s.
Fairchild's is a blend of old-time mountain music, country-western and bluegrass music, shaped into his own brand of old-time country-mountain music.
"It ain't old-time music, but it ain't bluegrass. It's Fairchild style," Fairchild said as he sat in the living room of his Canton home one rainy afternoon. "It's a fast style that I taught myself. It's something that come out of my mind."
Described by some as a solemn, even severe man, Fairchild has an infamous poker face on stage. It's an image he has cultivated over 38 years of making music.
Fairchild's career as a professional musician began in Maggie Valley when he was 18 years old. Since then, his music has helped create a life that he says has never been disappointing.
"There's a certain love there," Fairchild said. "You just love to do it. ...
"When you start playing and see the excitement in the crowd, that's when you get paid."
In the sleepy 1950s version of Maggie Valley, Fairchild played at Ted Sutton's Hillbilly Campground. Sutton was known by locals as "Maggie's Old-Man."
Fairchild learned to work a crowd and got the exposure he needed while he was playing at Sutton's Campground. The experience gave him the confidence to become a professional musician, he said.
played for tips back then,"Fairchild remembered. "My hero
is Ted Sutton. He's the man who gave me my first job making music."
Fairchild's interest in music began at an early age. His aunt Martha and uncle France, from his mother's side, were his main inspirations as a young player. Aunt Martha was self-taught and played the banjo left-handed. She helped Fairchild improve his playing, and those were the only real lessons he ever received.
"It's (music) just always caught my ear. It always has done something to me,"Fairchild said. "It's something that grabbed me and won't let go."
Although the banjo became Fairchild's vehicle to success, it was on an old Gibson guitar that he first learned to play when he was 11 years old.
"I was only a fair guitarist," Fairchild said. "My playing never seemed to get anywhere, until I picked up the banjo.
"I didn't start picking a banjo until I was 18," he said. "A banjo I just loved. But I couldn't afford to get one. It's something about the tone or sound. There's nothing like it in the world.
The banjo pickers Fairchild heard on radio and saw on television changed his perception of being a musician. Early on he looked to Earl Scruggs and Don Reno for inspiration, and these two legends would most influence Fairchild's style.
But creating his own sound on the banjo also drove Fairchild to seek out new and different techniques.
"I knew from the very beginning that I was never going to make it if I sounded just like everybody else," he said. "I knew if I was going to make it I needed something special."
And the fast, intricate style Fairchild perfected has since become know as the Fairchild Style.
He began playing with the Crowe brothersJosh and Waynein 1975. This band evolved into Raymond Fairchild and the Maggie Valley Boys.
Finding the right band to go along with his unique sound took some time, according to Fairchild.
"For years I searched for a sound. I'd look for it everywhere I'd go," Fairchild said. His search ended in the summer of 1975, in Walhalla, S.C., when he met Josh and Wayne at a music festival.
Fairchild tells a story about a fan he met at one of thousands of bluegrass festivals he has played: "This guy came up to me and said, " Raymond I believe you can only play as fast as the Crowe brothers can keep up with. You play faster and faster and they try to keep up." "That's how I play," he said with a broad grin of delight.
"The older I get the faster I play," he added.
Fairchild has never claimed to know much about music, but says it's something he learned over the years.
"It's a hand-me-down thing," Fairchild said of his music. "You know, there's some great musicians in these mountains."
And like so many other mountain musicians, Fairchild doesn't read music. "I don't need to read music to make music," he proudly explains. "You have to feel the music you play."
With an old cowboy hat pulled down across his face, Fairchild appears more the bad guy in a western movie than a seasoned, successful musician. His eyes never seem to connect, the result of a vision defect called strabismusa condition that causes difficulty focusing both eyes simultaneously on the same objectbut the glint in his eye lets you know he can see just fine.
Fairchild has been referred to as a master of the five-string banjo and has traveled to every state in the union and abroad, thrilling audiences with his fast picking.
He fulfilled a lifelong ambition to play on stage at the Grand Old Opry, in Nashville, Tenn., in 1978 still a highlight in his career, he says.
The constant demands of life on the road have dulled many musicians, but not Fairchild. He said that what he loves most about traveling and playing is the people and places he sees.
"There wouldn't be much point in playing if it weren't for the people," he said.