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RIP Charlie Faurot 1935-2013

Once it became clear that it was clawhammer banjo I wanted to learn, the one resource that everyone recommended was the three-volume "Clawhammer Banjo" recordings by Charlie Faurot. For people who play this style of banjo, he was our Alan Lomax, a man who set out to record the living masters of our beloved five-stringed instrument. Faurot died Sunday at the age of 77.

Born in Chicago and educated at Yale, Faurot began recording old-time musicians in the 1950s. By the 1960s, he started publishing the recordings as a side business to his careers as a banker, math teacher, swimming and water polo coach, and computer systems consultant. A few years after retiring, Faurot founded Old Blue Records in 2003 and began publishing old-time recordings he made from the 1960s to the present, including albums he had recorded for County Records.

Looking through all the albums on the Old Blue Records website, it surprised me how many of Faurot's recordings I owned without realizing it.

The only time I ordered directly from Faurot's label was last year, when I purchased the Kyle Creed album "Banjo Lessons on Kyle's Back Porch," which included a non-commercial recording of the Camp Creek Boys with Benton Flippen on fiddle. In an age where online ordering is the norm, it seemed quaint to fill out an order form and send a check by mail.

When I wrote the article on Riley Baugus for the April 2012 issue of Banjo Newsletter, Baugus expressed his excitement that his then-new album with Kirk Sutphin, "Long Time Piedmont Pals," was recorded by Faurot.

"I hope you're enjoying the Kirk and Riley CD," Baugus wrote me in an email. "It is pretty cool because it is a bit of a 'Field Recording' done by Charles Faurot. Charles was responsible for the first recordings of Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham and Oscar Jenkins that went out on the County label, which turned the world outside of N.C. on to Round Peak music."

Faurot influenced the world of old-time music with his recordings and helped cement the legacies of some of the more revered musicians of Southern Appalachia, such as Wade Ward, Gaither Carlton, Matokie Slaughter, Oscar Wright, and of course Jarrell, Cockerham and Creed. His "Clawhammer Banjo" series have formed the foundation of learning material for generations of old-time banjo pickers and generations more to come.


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