Shannon Grayson

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A bright musical ray from the town of Sunshine, NC, this banjoist recorded under his own name both for several historical regional bluegrass labels, and as a sideman on dozens of sides by groups such…
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Artist Biography by

A bright musical ray from the town of Sunshine, NC, this banjoist recorded under his own name both for several historical regional bluegrass labels, and as a sideman on dozens of sides by groups such as the Carlisles, playing both banjo and mandolin. He began picking the former axe as a young boy, and the presence of Snuffy Jenkins as a neighbor predictably led to musical influence on a massive scale from this old-time legend. Grayson began professionally with the Carlisles combo, under the leadership of the brothers Bill and Louis Carlisle. At this point, the banjoist was between 18 and 19 years old, and a taste of the music life was enough to make him ditch his job at the mills. From the 1930s through the '50s, he played pretty much full-time, a good six years of that with the Carlisles. He was based out of Charlotte when not touring, where he worked locally with the Briarhoppers, an old-time string band and mainstream bluegrass outfit. With this lineup, he broadcast over North Carolina stations such as WBT. For three years, his involvement with this group also led to touring up and down the East Coast, from Washington to Florida. Sometimes the demand was so great for this group, in between clubs and radio, that the group members spread themselves out between two satellite versions of the bands, each filled in by hired-gun pickers. "You couldn't tell one from the other hardly. It took almost an expert to tell one from the other," Grayson claimed an interview, throwing down a gauntlet for bluegrass punters.

Another side to this artist was his comic talents, leading to the possibility that the previous comment was a jest. At any rate, Grayson was a member of the hillbilly comedy group Hot Shot Elmer's Family, which would perform barefoot, bedraggled, and basically berserk. The antics of this group were apparently a popular diversion for a lunchtime crowd that caught their noon-time broadcast over WNOX in Knoxville. Grayson led and recorded with the Golden Valley Boys in the early '50s, presenting a repertoire of mostly gospel numbers with a few hot banjo instrumentals thrown in. It was an attempt to come up with a new band sound combining a vocal quartet with a string band, and left behind one particularly startling song, "If You Don't Love Your Neighbor." In a genre that is too readily stereotyped as being reactionary and zealously fundamentalist Christian, this song packs a topical punch as strong as Billy Bragg at his most fiery, and is a highlight of the bluegrass-gospel repertoire.

Members of the Golden Valley Boys included the excellent mandolinist Millard Presley, as well as the talents of Dewey Price on both tenor vocals and rhythm guitar. Unlike many groups of this period, the Golden Valley Boys stayed away from regular radio series sponsorships and remained an attraction at special shows, frequently combining with the popular, early country singer Carl Story. A total of eight releases cut for the well-distributed RCA, as well as another four for the King outfit, resulted in regular gigs being offered, and apparently a decent livelihood for the players and their bandleader. The development of the jukebox was also an important new way a band's record got around, and there were few jukeboxes around Appalachia that didn't have one of Grayson's singles on it. The success seems to have scared the banjoist into thinking he would lose contact with his family because of touring, so he jumped out of the music business and became a cabinet maker by the '60s. Remaining an enthusiast, he was a face in the audience that might be pointed out by those in the know at a Charlotte-area bluegrass sow.