A.C. Overton

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This North Carolina banjo player picks in a style that was unfortunately all but wiped out by the incredible popularity of bluegrass and its banjo calisthenics in the '40s and '50s. He is mostly known…
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This North Carolina banjo player picks in a style that was unfortunately all but wiped out by the incredible popularity of bluegrass and its banjo calisthenics in the '40s and '50s. He is mostly known for his playing relationship with the older fiddler Lauchlin Shaw, with whom he received the 1992 Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. Overton picked up his way of playing the banjo with his thumb and first finger from his uncle and father, and also received encouragement from his singing mother. She apparently stressed the importance of putting a lot of feeling and power into one's playing on an instrument, a lesson Overton certainly took to heart. While many old-time players simply headed for the hills when they first heard the sounds of bluegrass breakdowns, Overton tried to use some of the newer music's techniques and succeeded, adding a second finger to his picking hand. A dozen years his senior, Shaw was the perfect playing partner for Overton, although the banjoist also maintained a duo for seven years with fiddler Wayne Martin, including a performance at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. The banjoist has always been deeply concerned with preserving the heritage of music he learned from his family, basically a musical history of the eastern Piedmont region of North Carolina. As his playing partner Shaw became housebound in his last few years of his life, Overton spent more and more time trying to remember and write down songs from the old days, or even fragments of them. He began to have heart problems in his early seventies but continued making recordings of old-time music on the banjo, creating his own archive of songs that he felt no younger artists were actually learning to play correctly. He drove the one hour trip to Shaw's home almost every day to visit and spend time recollecting about their playing career together, which began at an American Legion hut in the mid-'50s but did not really extend beyond the casual local level until interest in old-time music began to mushroom in the Chapel Hill area in the '70s. The state arts council and North Carolina Folklife Institute helped produce a recording of the duo between 1988 and 1992. This CD, entitled Sally With the Rundown Shoes, was released on the Marimac label and includes the title tune as well as songs such as "Black Eyed Daisy," "Dixie Darling," and "Fair Home on the Hill." The Fayetteville Observer published an emotional account of Overton's visits to his ailing mentor Shaw, written by Doug Miller. Overton remained an official touring artist of the state of North Carolina in his declining years, but stipulated gigs could not be more than 200 miles from his home in Wake County.