It’s not unusual for traditional musicians to influence artists in other styles, and that kind of cross-pollination was especially common in the 1960s and ’70s, as pop and rock musicians mined the depths of old-time, blues, and other folk styles. But few traditional musicians of that era had quite such a long, strange trip into the world of pop culture as North Carolina’s Byard Ray and Obray Ramsey.
Ray and Ramsey were cousins from Madison County, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Asheville. Madison County has been home to renowned traditional ballad singers and instrumentalists for generations, and the two men were part of the network of families whose musical heritage has made the county famous. Obray Ramsey was a banjo player with an old-time three-finger picking style and a smooth, high singing voice. Byard Ray was a skilled fiddler whose musical roots drew from the playing of some of the early fiddlers of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, including J. D. Harris, who influenced many other great musicians of the region.
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