Young Uns #3 – Marteka and William Lake

Marteka and William LakeWilliam and Marteka Lake are, as young uns, unusual in that they have received a lot of press already. They are creating quite a storm among social media followers also.

Geoff Stelling, a very big fan of the duo, said as much in a Stelling Banjo Works advertisement published in Bluegrass Unlimited and they were interviewed for the June edition of Banjo Newsletter, both internationally renowned magazines read widely in the bluegrass music community.

Marteka and William Lake are from Hacker Valley, in Webster County, West Virginia. They first started playing together about three years ago

Marteka, now 16 years old, first tinkered with the banjo at the age of two. She got her first banjo as a present for her 6th or 7th birthday. “I heard him [Earl Scruggs] do the ending on Darlin’ Pal of Mine, I was hooked. My dad had a Gibson banjo, and he taught me a few rolls,” the elder of the two siblings revealed.

Such was the impact of those moments when she heard the ace banjo player that Marteka has religiously devoted herself to mastering his style of playing. “I am blown away with Marteka’s ability to play so close to Earl Scruggs’ style including his tone and timing, for which Earl was well known,” Stelling exclaimed.

So enthused was he that Stelling designed and built a banjo based on the Gibson RB-12 just to Marteka’s specifications. The Marteka Challenge, as it is called, has been extended into a line of its own and is now available for purchase, complete with her name engraved at the 10th fret.

Her younger brother has also been taken by the Flatt and Scruggs phenomenon, “My brother William is 14-years-old. He was also inspired by Lester and Earl. He plays like Lester with a thumb pick, finger pick, hat tilted to the side, raised eyebrow and all.”

William had this to say, “As far back as I can remember I wanted to play guitar. Then after Marteka started playing banjo I got to watching Lester Flatt and how he used a thumb and finger pick, and I knew at that moment that’s how I wanted to do it”.

Stelling observed, “William has mastered the rhythm guitar of Lester Flatt, .. [and] .. you can hear Lester Flatt in his voice when he sings.”

About a year ago William started learning how to play the mandolin and fiddle. “I actually only chop the mandolin and only do a couple tunes on the fiddle, I wanted to learn a fiddle tune so at our shows we could do a banjo and fiddle tune like Scruggs and Paul Warren did.”

Thanks to Buddy Griffin they have guested on the Wheeling Jamboree USA, Wheeling, West Virginia – later they were invited back to do their own show in April last year – and on the Milton Opry House in Milton, West Virginia. They opened the show for the bluegrass legend, Melvin Goins, who said of the youngsters, they play “some of the cleanest and purest, traditional bluegrass music I have heard in my 60 years of performing.”

“We have took (sic) second place in the West Virginia State Banjo Contest in Charleston, West Virginia, and second place in West Virginia Open Banjo Contest in Beverly, West Virginia,” Marteka says proudly.

Not surprisingly, they stayed close to home initially.

One exception to the rule was an appearance on Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Kentucky, with JD Crowe topping the bill. Despite the fact that Marteka had a stomach bug at the time they enjoyed themselves and are grateful for the exposure on PBS and Blue Highways TV and the radio broadcast in 170 countries.

Additionally, William and Marteka Lake have shared their amazing talents on two CDs, Keepin’ It Old School and True Grass Revival. The latter was reviewed in the February (2014) edition of Bluegrass Unlimited. Esteemed reviewer Murphy Hicks Henry commenting on the CD, says …….

True Grass Revival - Marteka and William Lake“Wow! Marteka, at age 15, is already a banjo player who demonstrates much depth. She has obviously studied Earl Scruggs in detail, and she showcases his arrangements with the touch of a seasoned musician while never sounding like a cloying copycat. Her playing is crisp (Bill Emerson-like), her tone is nuanced, her notes pop, and her timing reflects an older bluegrass style rather than today’s more metronomic cadences.

If I’ve laid it on pretty thick about Marteka, that’s because this 11-song CD is all banjo all the time with the exception of guitar breaks from younger brother William on Foggy Mountain Special and Wildwood Flower. William also provides solid rhythm guitar (with echoes of Charlie Monroe) along with rhythm mandolin chops, which I first mistook for a snare drum.”

Like the reviewer, I can’t wait to see how Marteka and William develop, “Is there room for growth here? Sure. But a strong foundation has already been laid,” concludes Henry.

Marteka sums up their musical philosophy thus …

“One of our main goals is to keep the music of Flatt and Scruggs alive. Bluegrass like country has got so far away from what the Masters made it. It would 
surprise some how many younger people that come to our shows have never heard pure bluegrass. And to us we owe them to keep it going the way they started it.

We are very dedicated to Flatt and Scruggs music, but we are actually working on a song that our dad and I have wrote about Lester and Earl. We do throw in a few Jimmy Martin songs every now and then, but mostly and foremost we are Flatt and Scruggs.

My brother and I are committed to starting a True Grass Revival.”

The duo is currently working on another CD project. It will feature Corrina Rose Logston, playing the fiddle, and Bruce Jones on reso-guitar. It will have some old Flatt & Scruggs tunes on it and it should be ready sometime this fall.

Marteka Lake on Woodsongs - photo by Larry Neuzel“William has started playing the fiddle a little in our show, we try to do a fiddle and banjo tune, like Flatt & Scruggs did. His main instrument is and always will be the guitar. He is a great bass player as well.

We have started to work our way into the bluegrass festivals, actually we played our first major bluegrass festival June 25th in Summersville WV, Music in the Mountains. And if that works out the promoter of the festival is going to book us at some of his other festivals he promotes.”

Here’s a recent video where they offer their version of The Ballad of Jed Clampett.

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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.