G.B. Grayson


Gilliam Banmon Grayson was known to most residents of northeastern Tennessee as “Banmon” when these recordings were made. He was born in Ashe County, N.C. on November 11, 1887. His family moved a few miles west when he was two years old, into Johnson County, Tennessee. That county forms the northeastern tip of Tennessee. He lived there for the rest of his life.

His vision was severely damaged when he was six weeks old. His daughter Lillie said he spent a winter day staring out a window at snow glittering in bright sunlight, “took cold in his eyes” and there after was permanently handicapped. But he was not totally blind and could recognize people by their bulk and tell time by holding a watch with large numbers close to his eyes.

He began playing a fretless homemade banjo as a small boy and became locally well known for his fiddling in her early teens. Unable to farm, work in timber or keep store, he was forced to rely upon music for the support of his wife and six children. An itinerant musician, he traveled from place to place, playing his fiddle and singing at school entertainments, on store porches, street corners, or wherever coins could be earned. He did not own an automobile and walked to jobs or waited for someone passing to offer a ride.

At one time or another, Grayson played with most of the better musicians of the area. His daughter recalled that a favorite was the North Carolina banjoist Doc Walsh. Grayson also played with Clarence (Tom) Ashley, another pioneering old-time musician from his county. Tom recalled trips with Grayson dating back to 1918, including at least two “busting trips” to the West Virginia coal fields where they performed outside pay shacks and passed Grayson’s hat. They performed at the famous May 1925 Old Fiddler’s Convention in Mountain City, Tennessee, a highly successful event that stimulated the creation of many similar events.

During a two year period in the mid-1920s, Grayson lived within three miles of Ashley’s home at Shouns, TN, but spent most of his adult life in Laurel Bloomery, TN, a tiny farming community in a beautiful valley between Damascus, Virginia and Mountain City, Tennessee.

On August 16, 1930, Grayson visited his brother’s home in nearby Virginia on foot. He’d been making a bit of money from his recordings and public appearances and seemed finally able to buy a home. He made a down payment on the home place where he was reared. Neighbor Bill Millhorn stopped to offer a ride as he was returning home, but as Millhorn’s family had his one-seat roadster fully occupied, Grayson had to stand on the running board outside the car while the little brown Japanese made fiddle he used for all his recording sessions was placed inside. While rounding a blind curve south of the town of Damascus, Millhorn’s car collided with a log truck heavily loaded with chestnut timber “extract” and driven by another neighbor, Ferd Gentry. Grayson was hurled from the running board and killed. He was 42.

There is recurring speculation about Gilliam Banmom Grayson’s name. Collector and musicologist Ralph Rinzler guessed that his first initial must be for “George” in 1962 and put this error into print. Since then discographers and writers have followed sheep-like in replicating Rinzler’s error.

There’s a reason for Grayson’s unusual actual first name, “Gilliam”. Both Grayson brothers named sons for a favorite Federal officer in the Civil War, General Alvin C. Gillem. Major Grayson’s son was called by his initials, “A.G.” Benjamin’s son, Gilliam Banmon Grayson, was always called “Banmon,” a family name from his mother’s largely Scotch-Irish family, the Roarks. His name was frequently misspelled, usually as “Bandman” and the family was not correct in the spelling of “Gillem”, the actual name of the officer the father wished to honor. It was a time when people were creative and had several ways to spell names! That his name was Gilliam Banmon Grayson is clear fromFederal pension records completed by or for his mother (he was the handicapped son of a soldier), death records, and a careful recounting of these matters by his oldest daughter, Lillie Grayson Sturdivant, who carefully spelled out both names when interviewed on tape by Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton and the writer is Rising Sun, Maryland in 1972.

(from http://moonshiner.over-blog.com)



One Response to “G.B. Grayson”

  1. W. Brian Forehand Says:

    My name is Brian Forehand. My wife is Henry Whitters step granddaughter. His last wife was Hattie Baker and Ann Baker was her granddaughter. We have many items relating to Henry and GB. The Ashe Co Museum has a great display of his plus we have much more memorabilia than what is displayed.

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