The world lost a great singer, musician, songwriter and entertainer last week with the passing of John ‘Buckwheat’ Green on March 17, 2022. Like every person, Buckwheat, or Buck as he was known by some, lived a life of normal pursuits – he was born in Danville, West Virginia on June 20, 1953, and attended public schools, moving to Hurricane, West Virginia in the 6th Grade, where he spent most of his life until his passing. He played high school football for the Hurricane Redskins, and after graduating he worked a large variety of jobs, including heavy equipment operator, record wholesaler, furniture salesman, music disc jockey, and teacher, to name a few. However, the reason for this post and the thing that attracted the most attention throughout his life was his amazing musical talent.
He found his passion for music at a young age and played most of his teenage years in a rock band, but switched his focus to bluegrass after seeing a performance of the Country Gentlemen. In 1972, he started a band called the West Virginia Gentlemen with high school friends, brothers Joe and Jerry Vance, and Tim Johnson. As their name would suggest, they were heavily influenced by the Country Gentlemen, especially in the beginning. They became one of the most popular groups at the newly opened Mountaineer Opry House in Milton, West Virginia, and their material began to reflect Buckwheat’s interest in southern rock, as well as including his early efforts at songwriting. More like family than just bandmembers, the group disbanded when mandolin player Tim Johnson was killed in a car wreck in 1976. After a year or so, Buckwheat re-entered the music world, joining Don Sowards’ Laurel Mountain Boys. He played several years with Sowards, during two stints, interrupted by two stints with a group he formed and named The High Time Picken Band. This carried through most of the 1980s, followed by a band he formed in the late 1980’s called Groundspeed.
During this time, he met and became friends with Lonesome River Band founder, Tim Austin. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Tim Austin had first choice of many of Buckwheat’s compositions, and the LRB recorded It Won’t Be Like Cheating, If I Could Only Have Your Love, and likely the best known of Buckwheat’s songs — Old Man In The Shanty. Ultimately, this connection led to an invitation to join the group, and Buckwheat moved to Virginia and joined the Lonesome River Band in 1990. The lineup of the group at that time included Tim Austin, Dale Perry, Dan Tymnski, and Buckwheat Green. While, unfortunately, his tenure fell between the Looking For Yourself and Carrying The Tradition recordings, there are some live recordings and videos that document that excellent lineup of the band.
When his time with the Lonesome River Band ended, Buckwheat stayed in Virginia for more than ten years. During this time, he performed with a bluegrass gospel group, Virginia Sonrize, whose members included Randy Graham. After returning to West Virginia to be near his aging mother in the mid-2000s, he spent several years focused on a demanding day job and caring for his mother, but in 2011, he joined Valerie and me in our West Virginia based group, Jim & Valerie Gabehart. We recorded and released a project titled I Was Raised In A Railroad Town, which included several of Buckwheat’s compositions, including Shoulder To Cry On. Unfortunately, just as that project was being released, in the fall of 2013, Buckwheat suffered a heart attack requiring open heart surgery, which ended his time in our group. In the last years of his life, he performed occasionally, but became more involved in the booking, advertising, and promoting of music, working with Calvin Mickey and the Mickey’s Mountain Festivals, and presenting bluegrass at Barnyard BBQ in Hurricane, West Virginia.
Enough about what he did. More important is who he was. He was a generous person who at times had much, which he shared, and at times had little, but he was not consumed with the pursuit of material possessions.He was an intelligent, witty, funny person who was never at a loss for words. He was plain-spoken, not concerned with “political correctness,” and prone to say things that others might think but not have the nerve to say. From the time I first heard him in the mid-1970’s, I thought he was the best singer in the Charleston-Huntington, West Virginia area, and forty-five years later I’ve never heard anyone better. It was an honor to have him in the band, and to have the chance to become closer friends than we already were. The world was a better place for his life and will be less enjoyable without him.
Rest In Peace, Buckwheat.