Bobby Patterson remembered

Well known musician and music historian Bobby Patterson of the Galax, Virginia, area passed away on September 24, 2017. He experienced kidney failure, having been given new a kidney in 2010.

Bobby Frank Patterson was born on April 1, 1942, in the Coal Creek community of Carroll County, Virginia.

Patterson and his long-time musical partner Willard Gayheart were the original Blue Ridge Music Center (BRMC) Mid-Day Mountain Musicians.

Also, in 1987 he helped found the highly-regarded Old Time Herald magazine.

Patterson’s mother played guitar and his father, a banjo player, his maternal grandfather, and eight uncles were all musicians also. So, it was natural that he should at age of six start playing the guitar. As he turned seven he got to see and hear his first live musical performance at Coleman School, close to where he lived.

Five years later Patterson entered a talent show at school, winning first prize with a rendition of The Ballad of Davy Crockett.

Then at the age of 16 he became interested in playing a banjo that his Uncle Tyra had given to him. A neighbor, Charles Hawks, gave him his first banjo lesson, teaching him the three-finger roll and the Gospel tune Uncloudy Day.

Two years later Patterson was playing the banjo with different bluegrass groups and, subsequently, he progressed to playing with Kyle Creed in his Camp Creek Boys band.

In 1972, with help from his father and Kyle Creed, he built his first recording studio, created a record label, Mountain Records, and started recording and producing albums that were released on his label. Two years later Patterson sold his interest in Mountain Records to Creed and formed his own label, Heritage Records, recording Tommy Jarrell, influential fiddler and banjo player, and other local musicians, some with little or no record output.

Among this group is guitar master Wayne Henderson, from Grayson County.

Two years later he joined the Highlanders Bluegrass Band playing mandolin, and he remained with them for most of the next 40 years and more, playing at venues up and down the Blue Ridge region.

Bobby Patterson and EWillard Gayheart performing at the Blue Ridge Music Center

About this time Patterson and Willard Gayheart began their musical partnership. The duo were members of the Highlanders Bluegrass Band at the time of the group’s attendance at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The next year Patterson opened a record and hobby shop, The Heritage Shoppe in Woodlawn, Virginia. This was the venue for their weekly live music show, The Fiddle and The Plow.

Patterson added to his business portfolio when, in 1985, he purchased Kyle Creed’s Mountain Records, resumed producing recordings for the label and, in 2002, he moved the recording studio to the basement area of The Heritage Shoppe.

In 2006 Patterson and Gayheart began playing for the BRMC’s Mid-Day Mountain Music shows, entertaining visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Patterson continued his work with young musicians, and organized festivals and concerts to promote traditional music in his role as President of the Blue Ridge Music Makers Guild, a position that he took up in 1999.

In later years, as a leader in the Galax Moose Lodge (Governor 2006-2007), he helped with the organization of the annual Galax Old Fiddlers Convention — considered to be one of the oldest and largest fiddler’s conventions in the world. He continued to help his community serving on the Galax Tourism Advisory Board and on the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts Advisory Board.

In 2009 Patterson was among the first to receive the Virginia Heritage award from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and in 2015 he was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame based in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, for his contributions to the recording industry.

He continued to release albums on his Heritage Records label, many of which were the product of his recording of musicians at the Galax Old Fiddlers Conventions.

Patterson recorded with Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed and Audine Lineberry on an album of Old Time Fiddling & Clawhammer Banjo (June Apple). Another LP on which Patterson played was Mountain Ballads, Banjo & Fiddle Tunes (Mountain Records).

There is no one better than Richard Emmett of the Blue Ridge Music Center (BRMC)/Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation (BRPF) to remember Bobby Patterson and the time that Patterson spent playing music with Willard Gayheart at the Blue Ridge Music Center …

“Bobby and Willard started playing music in the afternoons – once a week – at the Blue Ridge Music Center in 2006, the summer that the Music Center’s Visitor & Interpretive Center opened to the public. 

The Music Center’s weekend concert series began in the summer of 2002 after the completion of the outdoor amphitheater, but the Center’s award-winning Roots of American Music Museum Exhibit, did not open until the summer of 2011. In between 2006 and 2011, the Music Center hosted a variety of high-quality, but temporary, exhibits produced by the Blue Ridge Institute and the Crooked Road, but there’s was no ‘music’ at the Music Center, except for the weekend, summer concerts. 

Bobby, and his long-time musical partner Willard Gayheart – they played together for over 40 years including in the ’70s with the ground-breaking bluegrass group The Highlanders – decided that there should be some ‘music’ at The Music Center to help connect people more viscerally to the history, heritage, and stories of Blue Ridge Mountain Music. 

Thus, in the summer of 2006 Bobby and Willard began coming out to the Music Center once week to play for the folks stopping into visit the BRMC during the summer months (June, July, August). By the end of the summer of 2007, Bobby and Willard were coming out to the Music Center for informal music and storytelling sessions every Tuesday afternoon. Beginning in 2007, others started to join in on other afternoons (including Willard and son-in-law Scott Freeman on Thursday afternoons, The Buck Mountain Band on Mondays, Bill and Maggie Anderson on Wednesdays, and Stu Shenk and the Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers, who led a Sunday afternoon old-time mountain music participatory JAM.

Today, thanks to Bobby and Willard, the Blue Ridge Music Center’s Midday Mountain Music Program, featuring informal presentations/performances by local and regional traditional musicians now takes place every day the Music Center is open, from Noon-4:00 p.m. (7-days a week, early May through late October). 

As Bobby and Willard came to realize, playing at the Blue Ridge Music Center for folks traveling up (North) or down (South) the Blue Ridge Parkway (America’s Favorite Drive) provided them with an opportunity to play their music – and share their knowledge of the music, musicians, and musical heritage of the Blue Ridge and Southern Appalachian Mountains – with people from all over the country, and from around the world. As Bobby once told me, he was particularly excited with the high number of international visitors (Canada, England, France, Japan, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, China among others) that he and Willard would get a chance to meet, talk with, and play for. 

Bobby and Willard both felt that there was no better place to spread the gospel (cultural heritage) of mountain music then to the 40,000 plus folks that visited the BRMC each season. And, while they were playing and entertaining the visitors, they would tell them all about the Galax Fiddlers Convention, the Friday night Blue Ridge Back Roads concerts at the Rex Theater, the dances at the Allegheny Jubilee in Sparta, NC, concerts at The Earle Theater in Mount Airy, NC, the open JAMs every day of the week, somewhere within 20 miles of the Music Center (Independence, Fries, Rugby, Mt. Airy, Galax, etc.), and of course, Willard and Scott Freeman’s Friday night Fiddle and Plow concerts at Willard’s Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn, VA. 

As for all the other ways that Bobby was connected to the Galax and Blue Ridge Mountain Music communities – The Blue Ridge Music Makers Guild, The Galax Moose Lodge & The Fiddler’s Convention, The Old-Time Herald magazine, Mountain and Heritage Records, doing sound for the Winter Bluegrass concerts at The Fairview Ruritan, and of course, as a incredible musician having been involved in a number of influential bluegrass and old-time bands and recordings – we’ll he was quite something!

Given all that he did, all the success he had, and all the awards he won, he was always the nicest, most humble, most sincere and helpful person you would ever want to meet. 

Bobby Patterson was a wonderful man and an exemplary musician. 

He will be missed dearly.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.