Al Osteen is a familiar face in South Carolina bluegrass circles. He has played banjo with popular regional groups since he was 17 years old, notably as an original member of Curtis Blackwell and the Dixie Bluegrass Boys, plus time with Charlie Moore and Jim & Jesse.
But his greatest impact on the music has been as an instructor, having spent the past 30+ years working with young banjo pickers in north-central SC and east Tennessee. While hundreds have profited from his expertise, his most notable success stories are surely two-time National Banjo Champ Charles Wood and reigning IBMA Banjo Player of the Year and Grascals gal Kristin Scott Benson.
Now they, all Al’s students, and his many friends are coming together to offer a hand as he faces chemo to further attack a cancer for which he was recently treated surgically. A Lo Gordon clawhammer banjo valued at $1400 is being offered at raffle for $10 a chance, with the winner to be announced on October 29.
To get a feeling of how beloved Al is in the bluegrass community, see how Kristin remembers his kindness to her as a young picker.
“I took lessons from Al for over two years. He’s influenced all of his students heavily, but none more than me. I owe so much of my musicianship to him because he not only taught me how to play, but also how to think and listen. Many of the tools that people work so hard to get were just given to me because of his instruction. Very few players are blessed enough to have a teacher of his caliber.
I wish I could re-take all the lessons because I probably missed half of it. His knowledge is so deep that any player, no matter how advanced, would benefit from his approach to the banjo.
He’s obviously a crucial musical influence, but also a friend. It got to the point that I’d give him $20 for a lesson and then stay with his family all weekend. It’s hard to describe his enormous impact, but I’m certain I wouldn’t be remotely the same player, had he not been my teacher
Everyone that knows him appreciates his unique character and personality. It sounds trite, but he’s really one of a kind. We are praying for a full recovery and also wishing his wife, Becky, all the best through this process.”
Anyone who would like to purchase a ticket – or simply to make a donation – should contact Betty McDaniel at 864-878-4257, or send a check (payable to Al Osteen) to:
792 Holly Springs Road
Pickens, SC 29671