Influential bluegrass mandolinist Dewey Farmer passed away peacefully at a hospice care facility in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday morning, July 12, 2022. He was 79 years old.
Dewey Lee Farmer was born on August 6, 1942, in Oconee County, South Carolina. He played several instruments, specializing in the mandolin and travelled and performed in many parts of the country in various bluegrass bands, including A.L. Wood and the Smokey Ridge Boys (during the 1960s and 1970s) and Carl Story and Rambling Mountaineers (during 1970s).
In the early 1960s Farmer also played in a band with Lonnie Morton, Garland Shuping, and Bill Deaton, and with banjo player Hoyt Herbert in The Strings of Five in late 1970s.
Even though Farmer had a career that extended over 60 years he remains a largely unsung artist. He has his advocates/champions though.
Tom Isenhour, an authority on Monroe-style mandolin, noted the impact that Farmer had on Monroe …..
“If you know your Monroe, you know his style changed about every decade. That’s because of Dewey who first met Monroe in the mid-’50s. You can start to hear his influence on Monroe’s style with Bluegrass Stomp and Bluegrass Twist. Songs like Dusty Miller, Kentucky Mandolin, Big Sandy River, and Tombstone Junction, Southern Flavor have Farmer licks all in them. Few mandolin players have been allowed on stage with Monroe. Dewey is one of the few. This reminds me of the joke about the guy next to the Pope. If I’m not mistaken, Farmer was also a big influence on John Duffey. His break on Bottom of the Glass is pure Dewey.
Here Farmer plays Monroe’s Bluegrass Special …
In the liner notes to the Dewey Farmer & Derwin Hinson CD, Joseph L. Scott wrote ….
“Bluegrass Unlimited once proclaimed Dewey Farmer ‘The Best Mandolin Player You’ve Never Heard.’ But for those of us who came up in and around the North Carolina bluegrass scene, the last three words of that title were always unnecessary. To us, Dewey was simply the best. A stirring combination of Monroe downstrokes and machine-gun triplets, of traditional fiddle tunes and crazy Andy Statman covers (a contrast revisited to kick off this recording); there is simply no one like Dewey. And besides, that unofficial title was never entirely accurate anyway.
If you’ve heard Carl Story’s 1969 LP Daddy Sang Bass, then you’ve heard Dewey. Own any of those ground-breaking early 70s A.L Wood and The Smokey Mountain Boys LPs? Then you’ve heard Dewey. Enjoy Butch Robbins’ acclaimed 2005 release, Grounded, Centered and Focused? Then, well, you get the idea…
Lonesome Smokey is one of a few tunes that Dewey Farmer composed …
[Al Wood & The Smokey Ridge Boys – Sing A Bluegrass Song]
Farmer also played and/or recorded with Hoyt Herbert (banjo), Ken Poovey (fiddle), and cousin Lester Deaton (guitar) in a band known as Strings of Five; Morris Herbert Sr.; Clarence Greene; Midnight Highway; Powder Creek; and Rosewood, as well as fronting with Harold Murphy the group Foggy Mountain Grass.
He enjoyed attending fiddle contests and conventions. In this instance from 1988 he was at Galax
On and On ….
Dewey Farmer (mandolin and singing lead), Clay Jones (guitar and harmony vocal), Larry Perkins (banjo), Bob Winquist (fiddle), and Dale Overstreet (second mandolin).
Disappointingly, Farmer’s mandolin picking was never showcased on a professionally produced album. Most of his recordings were done in a makeshift studio that he had behind his house and where he recorded projects for local bands and did a fine job in the circumstances.
Here is another sample from his time with A.L. Wood & The Smokey Ridge Boys – Deep Thunder
As a teenager, Sandy Hatley picked the banjo with an all-girl group called the Happy Hollow String Band……
“He encouraged me when I was a young female musician in ’70s during a time when ladies weren’t always welcomed.”
Travers Chandler was another who enjoyed Farmer’s patronage …
“I never consciously set out to pattern my playing on the mandolin after anyone, but Dewey permeated and influenced me beyond description.
I first met Dewey when I was 14 years old. I had those terrific Rebel releases from my NC hero and mentor, A.L. Wood, which featured Dewey on mandolin. When I met Dewey, he was with the incomparable C.E. Ward. They could’ve been crabby bastards, but they weren’t. I was allowed to stand in awe of my hero and play the first high grade instruments I ever played (Dewey was trying out about a half dozen of the Ward mandolins). That chance encounter shaped my life forever and I made a friend in Dewey Farmer. I was always welcome to call or visit anytime. He loved talking about my heroes as much as I did. Buzz Busby, Red Allen, Charlie Moore… Dewey knew them all.
When I recorded the album, State of Depression, I made certain to cover one of Dewey’s numbers. And every mile every state, every stage, I told everyone who would listen about Dewey.
I feel so honored to have recorded with Dewey, picked with him, sang with him, and call him friend. The last time I saw him was a few years ago at Mt Airy Fiddlers convention. It was hotter than nine kinds of hell, and Dewey, the coolest cat ever, never broke a sweat. We broke out the mandos and for three hours we sang, picked, traded licks, and laughed. I’d take a break and he’d bellow out, ‘pick it like I taught ya!’
I love you, Dewey. The world already misses your presence.”
Al Jones Sings Again (teaser)
Larry Perkins met Farmer after he, when a teenager, moved to Kannapolis ….
“I’ve never had a better friend than Dewey. We met when I was trying to learn how to play. He was already a legend, a highly revered stylist and performer, but for some reason he took an interest in me and we became best of friends. Seldom did a weekend pass but what we were together playing somewhere. Dewey’s calloused fingerprints are all over anything I’ve been blessed to do with or because or through music.”
Tom Isenhour remembers …
“In 1965 I got to meet, for the first time, the then legendary mandolin picker, Dewey Farmer, of Kannapolis, NC, up close and personal in a classroom at the Mooresville, NC Fiddler’s Convention. Dewey had been winning championship mandolin prizes in competition since the late ’50s. I was just so impressed with his command of the Monroe Style mandolin picking. Dewey was able to take it to the next level. Dewey had the power, the notes, and ability to deliver his music. We crossed paths in different bands and bluegrass festivals for the next 57 years, and remained friends to this day.
I remember one of the happiest times I saw him was when he finally got an original Gibson F5 pre-war Fern mandolin in the mid-’80s from collector/dealer Harry West. One time we got to play in the same band, and ended up on flipping a coin on who would play guitar. I won and Dewey had to play guitar, but Dewey was also a great guitar picker too. We had a common bond with our love of all things Monroe. Dewey had a big personality, and you always felt his love of bluegrass music when around him. He will be missed by so many who knew him.
R.I.P. my friend in bluegrass.”
Dewey Farmer – Bluegrass Ramble (Powder Creek) ….
Willie McDonald (The Bluegrass Patriots) captures the essence of Dewey Farmer’s mandolin in this endearing tribute – The Legend of Dewey Farmer, released November 1, 2015
In 2002 he had some health issues about this time, including a broken collar bone, but was generally in good health until recently.
Farmer worked at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis for 44 years.
R.I.P., Dewey Farmer
The family will receive friends from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2022, at Genesis Baptist Church in China Grove, NC. The funeral service will follow and begin at 11:00 a.m. with Rev. Gene Edwards officiating. Burial will immediately follow the service at Carolina Memorial Park in Kannapolis.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Transitions LifeCare in Raleigh, NC.
Bluegrass Today is grateful for the assistance from Tom Isenhour, Larry Perkins, Travers Chandler, James Torrence, and Morris Herbert.
- Old Red Barn (1988) – Dewey Farmer & Friends.
- My Old Favorites (1992)
CE Ward & Dewey Farmer
- Bluegrass Picnic (2001)
Dewey Farmer & Derwin Hinson
- Dewey Farmer & Derwin Hinson (Patuxent CD 233, 2012)
Carl Story and Rambling Mountaineers
- Daddy Sang Bass (Starday S-SLP-438, 1969)
A.L. Wood & The Smokey Ridge Boys
- Bluegrass Today (Rebel SLP-1525, 1973)
- Sing A Bluegrass Song (Rebel SLP-1519, 1973)
- Kentucky Sun Going Down (Atteiram AP I 1578, 1978)
Strings Of Five
- Fret High (Star Records 13579, 1979)
- James Torrence (1988)
- A Touch Of The Past (Pinecastle PRC 1022, 1993)
- Grounded Centered Focused (Hay Holler Records HHH-108, 1995)
- Al Jones Sings Again (June 2017)
- The Smokey Ridge Boys – Jimmy Brown the Newsboy
- I Remember Those Days, …Way Back (Union Grove Talking Machine Records – SS-5, 1971)