Terry Baucom at the 2019 Pickin’ in Parsons Festival – photo © Jeromie Stephens
Terry Baucom, a truly and deeply beloved figure in the world of bluegrass banjo, has died following a brief but debilitating illness. He was 71 years of age.
Though as a teen he wanted to be a fiddler, Baucom had originally warmed to the five string, and exploded onto the bluegrass scene with Boone Creek, a short-lived band that helped define contemporary grass for the next generation. Members included Ricky Skaggs on mandolin and fiddle, Wes Golding on guitar, and Jerry Douglas on reso-guitar. Bauc was 22 years old when he joined the group on banjo.
Their two recordings, Boone Creek and One Way Track, were extremely popular when they were released in 1977 and ’78, and followed nicely after the classic J.D. Crowe & The New South album (Rounder 0044) from 1975. The band had a newly muscular style, powered in large part by Baucom’s banjo which was intense and aggressive in its approach.
His style primarily employed the vocabulary that Earl Scruggs and J.D. Crowe had introduced, but with a right hand attack that produced an even more staccato effect, punctuating the beat with his impeccable note placement and driving the band in a powerful way.
After appearing in a highly influential band like Boone Creek, he went silent for a time after the band broke up, only to reemerge as an original member of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver in 1979. He appeared on the debut, self-titled album and the Rock My Soul gospel followup. Their Quicksilver Rides Again record was a breakout for Quicksilver, with Terry’s banjo driving through now classics like Misery River, Yellow River, and I’ll Be Around Somewhere. He left the group in 1985.
As if being a founding member of two hugely influential bluegrass acts wasn’t enough, Bauc’s next outing was with the introduction of IIIrd Tyme Out in 1991. His dear friend, Alan Bibey, also a founding member, suggested him for the group which was being formed by Russell Moore, Ray Deaton, and Mike Hartgrove, all three having recently departed from Doyle Lawson.
He appeared on their first two recordings, the self-titled debut, and Puttin’ New Roots Down, for which Bauc introduced a truly definitive lick on Lower On The Hog, which you hear in the banjo kickoff. It’s now played at jams all over the world.
Not long after leaving IIIrd Tyme Out, Terry hooked up with Lou Reid to form a new group they called Lou Reid, Terry Baucom & Carolina. Unsurprisingly, they focused on the same sort of driving contemporary bluegrass that Baucom has championed through his whole career. The band also included Clay Jones on guitar and Marcus Smith on bass. They released two albums, Carolina Blue in 1993 and Carolina Moon in ’94.
He hooked up again with Alan Bibey in 1998 for a group they initially called Baucom, Bibey, Graham, and Haley, for the members Terry Baucom, Alan Bibey, Randy Graham, and Jimmy Haley. This was the same lineup that had formed New Quicksilver in the early 1980s, a band they formed after leaving Doyle. Lawson convinced them to change that name and the ’80’s group foundered.
Baucom, Bibey, Graham, and Haley became Baucom, Bibey & Blueridge after Randy and Jimmy left, and eventually included Junior Sisk on guitar and vocals. After Terry left, Alan continued the group as Blueridge.
In 2000, Bauc participated in a special project for Rebel Records which took the name of the first banjo tune he had ever written, Knee Deep in Bluegrass. The tune also gave the name to his wife Cindy’s syndicated radio program after the two were married in 2003.
That same year, he returned to Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver for another four year stint, and recorded on a number of tracks for their School of Bluegrass project.
Finally, after more than 40 years as a sideman, Terry formed his first band in 2013, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive. The name reflected a nickname he had been given some years earlier when he made an instructional video with AcuTab Publications. He won the 2013 IBMA Recorded Event of the Year award for the song What’ll I Do, with Sam Bush on lead vocal.
Terry continued performing with the Dukes of Drive until late this summer.
Known primarily to people in the business, and to Bauc’s close friends, he was also a celebrated humorist, whose pithy quotes on all sorts of topics are etched into bluegrass lore. Sadly, they rarely satisfy in print, as hearing them in his terse, clipped delivery was a major part of the charm.
Just as an example, Tim Stafford loves to tell of one time when Baucom was backstage, and opened his banjo case to see his capo already fixed at the fourth fret. Looking down at the neck, he quipped, “Look at that. He’s home.”
Terry’s stage presence was typically stoic if not stone faced, but he was a warm and friendly person, even though his personna could sometimes made him seem unapproachable. He leaves behind a large and loving family, and has been a friend to just about everyone who ever played bluegrass.
The illness that took his life was Lewy Body Dementia, a most unkind disease where protein deposits form in the nerve cells of the brain, affecting important life functions like thinking, memory, and movement. Perhaps thankfully, the progression is fairly rapid, sparing the patient the years of confusion that Alzheimer’s sufferers typically endure. But it robs us of our loved ones gradually, and then quickly.
Terry was diagnosed with Lewy Body earlier this year, fully understood its likely outcome, and was able to continue performing with the Dukes of Drive until May 24. Even after he wasn’t able to play on stage, he continued to travel with the band to speak with fans, sign CDs, and pose for photos as long as he could. Bauc hand picked Jason Burleson to stand in for him on banjo during this time.
This is a grave loss for the bluegrass and banjo community, especially after noting the recent deaths of J.D. Crowe, Bill Emerson, and Sonny Osborne. The generation of greats who kept Earl Scruggs’s music alive are nearly gone.
Terry’s personality will be missed every bit as much as his banjo playing. A great man is gone.
Funeral arrangements will be handled by Johnson Funeral Home in Elkin, NC. Details forthcoming.
R.I.P., Terry Baucom.