Randy Driskill (Randolph to his bluegrass music friends, except for Terry Baucom who still fondly calls him Disco) is as much of a natural musician as there is. God truly gave this man a talent for hearing a song and then reproducing it on just about any instrument that touches his hands.
Born April 13, 1961 Randolph had a keen ear for music and it would just seem to grab his attention from an early age. His family says that his musical talent first showed itself when he was just 4 years old. His babysitter had to attend a funeral, so took young Randolph with her. While at the service, Randy heard the song Sweet Bye and Bye being played on and old pump organ.
Later that day, while his babysitter was preparing his lunch, she heard music being played on the piano in the living room. When she looked in, to her surprise, there sat the four year old playing the song he had heard earlier on the family piano. The babysitter called Randy’s mom and said, “listen to this.” Randy’s mom said “that is good – who is that?” The babysitter replied “Its Randy, and he is playing with both hands.”
While I was researching this piece, Randolph shared with me that he thinks his talent was passed on to him by his grandfather, Randolph “Cat” Driskill who played guitar. “They called him Cat because he was a real catbird” said Randy and then laughed and said “he passed that old Martin down to me too.” I said that I bet that old Martin is worth some money and he said “it doesn’t matter it’s not going anywhere.” I joked and said “Randolph, remember me in your will.”
When he was 6 years old, his dad went down to the Best Products store in Lynchburg, VA and bought a beginner’s guitar, complete with all of the instructional books (Roy Clark’s Big Note Song Book I suspect). His intention was to learn to play. His dad tried for several days to learn and then one day, he got a little frustrated and took a break. He left the guitar lying out and, before long, to his dad and mom’s surprise, there was music coming from the bedroom. When they checked, there was Randy sitting on the bed with the song books all thrown in the floor, playing the instrument – and playing it well. His dad just came in, took the books, tossed them in the trash, and gave Randy the guitar.
When the movie, Deliverance, came out Randolph reports being taken aback by the sound of the banjo that was playing in the signature soundtrack. Driskill recalls that he just had to have a banjo. That Christmas his parents went down to the Best Products store again, and bought him a five string. By the end of the day he was playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown. He promptly went out and purchased the Flat and Scruggs album Foggy Mountain Banjo, and then every day after school, for 4 or 5 hours, he would put that record on the stereo and play along with his new banjo.
With a smile, Randy said he replaced the needle on the stereo 3 or 4 times.
That next summer a banjo player named Red Byers (who worked at the local music store) invited Randolph to a bluegrass festival where he was playing with the Mountain Men (a band that was led by Charlie Saunders, a Monroe styled player and singer). While they were warming up for their show, Randy was in the background picking along when Charlie looked at him and said “get that banjo up here where I can hear it.” Randy said “yes sir,” and then proceeded to pick a couple of songs with them. Charlie invited Randy to pick a song on stage with them that night. That’s all it took for the performer to come out in Randy. He played Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and then got to hear himself on the radio because the show had been recorded for a local program.
Randolph recalls going to another festival in Evington, Virginia where he was jamming on Friday night with some locals at a campsite. The next morning he was, as he put it, summoned to the motor home of Chief Powhatan, a full-blooded Native American bluegrass singer who was quite popular in central Virginia at the time. Randy said the Chief looked at him and said, “you are my new banjo player.” At 12 years of age Randy looked at him and said, “sign me up.”
He spent the next 2 or 3 years as the banjo player for Chief Powhatan and the Bluegrass Braves. This was his first experience as a professional musician and Randy fondly says, “I learned a lot about people and the music business during this time. I would not trade this experience for any amount of money.”