Buddy Spurlock passes

Kentucky banjo player Buddy Spurlock, also known in his later years as Bud, died on Wednesday, September 21, in Prestonsburg, KY at the Riverview Nursing Home. He was 81 years of age.

Born in eastern Kentucky in 1941 as Vernon Spurlock, Buddy came to the attention of the bluegrass world as a founding member of The Bluegrass Alliance, along with Dan Crary on guitar, Wayne Stewart on mandolin, Lonnie Peerce on fiddle, and Harry Shealor on bass, who took on the name Ebo Walker. In the late 1960s this group was in the process of defining a new way of approaching the music Bill Monroe left us, and served as a root for New Grass Revival and the entire new grass movement that followed in the ’70s.

That band, unknown to many current lovers of modern bluegrass, provided the training ground for the founders, but also such luminaries as Tony Rice, who replaced Crary in the band; Sam Bush, who had been a mandolin student of Stewart’s, and joined the group as a teenager; and later Vince Gill who also played guitar with the Alliance.

Spurlock played banjo on the self-titled Bluegrass Alliance LP in 1969 after having recorded a double-sided single with Bob Morris & The Kentucky Bluegrass Boys a year prior. Not much is known about his post-Alliance music.

His good friend, Scott Napier, current mandolinist with Wildfire who knew Buddy well, filled in a few blanks.

“Buddy was an incredible musician, active mainly during the evolution of Newgrass. He was part of the Bluegrass Alliance, first with Dan Crary and Danny Jones, then with Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Ebo Walker, and Lonnie Pierce. If you know your bluegrass history, the New Grass Revival spun off from this band, and the rest is history.

Buddy never talked much about his past, or his contributions to music. All that I got out of him on it was that he was homesick and wanted to get out of the city (Louisville, KY), and come back to the mountains (Hazard, KY.) Buddy and I were from the same neighborhood, and I was fortunate to team up with him as a teenager. Although he was not active on the music scene, he was very passionate about playing, and playing well. He influenced me in the fact that he was so good, but had a burning desire to improve, even though he had no interest in being heard. It taught me that if you have the music in you, it has to come out, regardless.

He also taught me some difficult tunes that really pushed me early on, like Cotton Patch Rag and Huckleberry Hornpipe. I still play them to this day.

Buddy returned to his hometown in Hazard. He lived near where I grew up and he never left. His brother Ben was very involved with coal mining operations and ran a hotel, and Buddy mostly worked for Ben’s operations. He picked around with a local crew, and would attend bluegrass festivals around the state. Young musicians would seek him out and he would play and work with them privately, including myself.

I have lots of memories with Buddy, but one in particular was skipping out on my high school prom to play a show with Buddy at his brother’s steakhouse. I’m thankful to have known him. So long, Buddy.”

Here is an original banjo tune he wrote and recorded on that first Bluegrass Alliance record, called Naugahyde, which older readers may remember was the brand name of an early leather substitute. The word was the butt of many jokes in the late ’60s.

Doyle Lawson had also befriended Spurlock back in the day

“Sorry to hear of Buddy’s passing. Before I moved from Louisville to Lexington he and I got together and picked banjos a few times, and I was so impressed with the note separation he had. He was a Don Reno fan and played Don’s style as good as anyone I ever heard, while I was trying to pick like JD Crowe – but I must tell you he was far better at Reno than I was at Crowe. I often wondered what became of Buddy.

My condolences to the family.”

A graveside service was help for Bud Spurlock on September 22 at Holliday Cemetery in Ary, KY, his hometown.

R.I.P., Buddy Spurlock.

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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.