Roby Huffman passes

roby3Roby Huffman, popular singer and bandleader in eastern North Carolina, passed away on December 29, 2012. He was 74 years old, and had been ill since being diagnosed with lung cancer a few months back.

Huffman toured internationally with his band, Roby Huffman and the Bluegrass Cut Ups, starting in the 1950s. With some personnel changes, the group that lasted into the ’80s. Roby’s soaring tenor was the focus of their sound, and the similarity between his and Bobby Osborne’s voice was widely remembered, especially when Huffman was younger.

The Cut Ups were reconstituted in 1997, and continued performing sporadically with them and as a guest on other shows until recently.

Throughout his time in bluegrass, though, Roby maintained a career in the building trades, working as a self-employed brick mason, something that NC fiddler Johnny Ridge remembers well.

Johnny Ridge with Roby Huffman“I always admired him for sticking with his day job, instead of possibly putting his family’s well being in jeopardy by trying to play music for a living. He probably could have, but chose not to.

He did travel a lot back in the ’70s and ’80s, but still stayed with that day job.”

Another North Carolina grasser that remembers Huffman fondly is Lorraine Jordan of Carolina Road, who credits him for teaching her the skills required of both a band leader and a promoter, two areas where Lorraine has since shone.

roby_lorraine“Roby Huffman gave me my first professional bluegrass job. This was in the ’70s when jobs were hard to come by in the music.

He was a great band leader and bluegrass promoter. Roby had the clearest, highest high lead voice you could ever hear. He sang almost everything in the key of B. When I moved on to other bands they would ask me if I was comfortable playing and singing tenor in the key of B. I always answered to them, ‘I played with Roby,’ and of course then they knew I could!

Many of us eastern North Carolina bluegrass musicians owe it all to Roby and the Blue Grass Cut Ups for paving the way for us.”

A funeral was held earlier this week at Tee’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Smithfield, NC.

Here is video of Roby with the Cut Ups back in 2006.

 

Special thanks to Laura Tate Ridge of Deep River Management for her assistance in putting this obituary together.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    Roby Huffman was a mainstay of the Camp Springs, NC festivals, put on by Carlton Haney, during it’s heyday years. In the ’70s, there were few bands in NC better than Roby Huffman & the Bluegrass Cutups. Roby’s voice was as pure and clear as you’ve ever heard. Perhaps his only downfall was that he sounded too much like Bobby Osborne! He didn’t really try to……he just did. If you turned your back, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. I remember that Sonny Osborne refused to follow Roby’s band at Camp Springs! As Johnny Ridge said, Roby could have been a full-timer but chose to stay closer to home and family. For the folks of eastern NC, an icon has passed on. My condolensces to his friends and family. Heaven has another beautiful voice now!

  • Alex Albright

    Roby Huffman & the Bluegrass Cutups All-Time Band

    banjo: G.G. Woodall; Marshall Strickland, who lived next door to Roby; Jesse Harmon, Edenton; Kenneth Peade, S. Boston, Va.; Hugh Moore, Raleigh; Al Batten, Selma; Daniel Casey, Goldsboro; David Earl Coley.

    Dobro: John Whitley, Wendell (also played banjo)

    fiddle: Bob Creech, Samantha Casey, Goldsboro

    Mandolin: Pat Holland, Smithfield; Tommy Mendenhall, Greensboro; Mike Rose, Goldsboro; Norman Wright, South Boston.

    Bass: Kenneth Glover, Smithfield; Elmer Jackson, Smithfield.

    Guitar: Willie Lee, Smithfield; Travis Johnson, Four Oaks; Jeff Huffman, Smithfield.

    Roby and Wade Hamilton reconstructed this list of players after one of Kenneth Glover’s last shows with the band. Roby noted that Willie Lee had gotten him playing to start with. He considered these to be the “main ones” in his band in the 1970s: Harmon on banjo, Creech on fiddle, Glover on bass, Lee on guitar, and Whitley on Dobro. I cannot vouch for all spelling or hometowns and am glad for corrections or additions to this list.

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    I know that Tim Ashley of Roxboro, NC played bass in Roby’s band for awhile. I’m not sure how long.

    Also in the mid to late ’70s, Roby had a banjo picker who was very good, but his right hand seemed as though it had been injured at some time. You may have already listed him, but the names don’t seem to ring a bell. Do you remember who he was?

    • Alex Albright

      thanks for adding Tim’s name to this list. Others that I omitted from original list include Dell Tims, Ken Knox & Ray Bridgers, who also played bass, and Jan Johansson on mando/fiddle

      am not sure from your description who that fast banjo picker was but will ask around some of the old-timers. seems likely it’s jesse harmon?

      alex/