By: Glenda Smith
February 7, 2001– He is known as Mr. Bluegrass and you can find- him any Friday night at the Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center, jamming with friends and entertaining the crowd.
Johnson County is rich in talented musicians, so its not unusual to find someone who can play three different instruments, as Mr. Bluegrass does. What is unusual is the fact that he is self-taught, has become an accomplished mandolin, guitar and banjo player in two years, and he is only 13.
Friends and family know Mr. Bluegrass as Kody Norris, son of Kenny and Ginger Norris. Norris says he became interested in learning to play after hearing old-time music performed at his church.
Larry and Brenda Barry would play, and l loved hearing the mandolin. I started wanting to learn how to play, and they began helping me, and continued to do so until I learned.
Six months later he mastered his favorite song, The Wildwood Flower and also found himself a mentor.
Calvin Allen has been my mentor, friend and teacher for the past two years. HeeHgdfhgdshfdhdfghdfhgdshhh started picking me up on Tuesdays and Fridays and taking me with him to places he was playing at.
In June of 1999, Norris said he was given the opportunity he had only dreamed of.
I had been going to Sam Morefields store and to the Reed Store. The Sounds of Bluegrass were going to be playing at a Pig Pickin in Triplett North Carolina. It was a major event, because it served as a big fund-raiser for the fire department there. Bill Taylor, who is with the Sounds of Bluegrass, asked me if I wanted to go and fill in for the mandolin player.
Performing before an audience of 900 at the Triplett Pig Pickin was enough, said Norris, to make him a member of the band he loved to listen to.
Bill, Hal, Clay and Tim all wanted me to join the group, but I think they thought it was just a phase I was going through and would get tired of. I could understand their point because I was only 11. Bill said he would give me two months.
Two months later Norris was still in the group and had also learned 15 new songs.
It was then everything began to happen fast for Mr. Bluegrass.
I started playing at different churches. I played at the Trout Rodeo and Fiddlers Convention, and weve played in Virginia and North Carolina.
Norris says while he never grew tired of playing with the Sounds of Bluegrass, or traveling to different shows, he did begin wanting to learn to play a different instrument.
I thought since I had learned to play mandolin that I could learn to play the guitar, so I began working on it.
Norris not only mastered the guitar, but also the banjo.
His parents say they are amazed at their sons natural talent and how easy music is for him.
Kenny or I, neither one, play any instrument. I really hate to admit it, but when Kody was learning, I wasnt around that much, because my aunt was dying and I was helping the family take care of her, said Ginger, his mother.
After she passed away and things got back to normal I was amazed at how much he had learned and how good he was.
Once a collector of antique toys, Norris has now started a collection of instruments, each as unique as the young musician who plays them.
I have 11 different instruments including two mandolins, my first one which Larry and Brenda sold me; a Graybeal, which is handcrafted by Paul Graybeal from Zionville, North Carolina. I have five guitars, and one of them is an Arch Top, from the mid 1940s, which was a gift from my aunt, Jean Lewis. I also have three banjos and a fiddle which Dairly and Linda Keller bought me.
Not only has Norris musical talent given him the opportunity to perform at different places, he has also been able to meet interesting people.
In April of 2000, I got to go to the Merle Watson Fest in Wilksboro, and Kevin Parsons took me to see Jim and Jesse in West Jefferson. In June of 2000, Lou and Diane Taylor took me to Nashville, and I got to go backstage, and meet, some of the stars.
Among the performers Norris met were Porter Wagoner and Jim and Jesse.
When Jim and Jesse came through I asked if they would sign my book, and one of them asked if they had not met me in West Jefferson. I couldnt believe they remembered me.
Norris, an A and B student at the Johnson County Middle School, is popular with classmates, but says his best friends are a little older.
Calvin, Hal, Bill, all the people I play with, are my closest friends. I spend more time with them than I do with kids from school, because I would rather be jamming bluegrass on Friday night, then to be at a ball game.
Norris says for him there is only Monroe and Jimmy Martin. I had music in school, but to be honest I didnt understand any of that Mozart and Beethoven stuff.
Norris says he never listens to rock or popular music.
Why listen to a song if you cant understand the words? The country music of today really isnt country.
Ive been listening to bluegrass since I was four years old, and its the only music I really like.
Norris is now learning the fiddle and hopes to also learn the dobro. He is still a member of the Sounds of Bluegrass, and plays the mandolin at First Freewill Baptist Church.
With a lot of help from different people Ive learned to play the music I love. Everyone says I am self-taught and Bill Taylor gave me the nickname Mr. Bluegrass. I would like to take my music as far as I can, but I never want to forget; where my real talent came from. I thank the Lord every day for giving me this talent. Without the Lord you cant do anything.
By: Teresa P. Cunningham
Time is a gift. It serves us well if we let it. It heals us and allows us to grow. It makes stars twinkle and babies smile. It digs deep and never lets us go. Dreams and desires take time and dedication. Drive and determination takes us far. Time has served Kody Norris moments of glory, days of dedication, and thrills of a lifetime.
From the time Kody was 13 and beginning his music career, he was serious, proud, talented, and focused. Focused on his future, bluegrass fueled his fire to entertain and connect musically with all types and ages of people.
Calvin Alan mentored Kody in music, stage presence, and image and got him started in the business from the age of 13. Calvin told me right off the bat to always dress to impress, said Norris. He said not to take a back seat to anybody and to do your thing the best you can and be genuine.
Kodys style of music and image leaves the listener with an unforgettable image of a ritzy rhinestone band and the lingering tunes of traditional blue grass leaving the soul savoring more. The stage is filled with serious musicians with sparkling suits and lyrics with potential to fill your heart with a rollercoaster of emotions. Kody runs a tight ship and has high expectations for him and his band members. Bluegrass is a serious business.
After getting started and networking with a wide range of musical talent, Kody had the opportunity to play with Ralph Stanley while he was still in high school. During a jam session at the Carter Fold, lead singer, James Shelton, took one of Kodys cds. Ralph Stanley contacted Kody to fill in for his son, Ralph Stanley II while he took a leave of absence. About the time Ralph Stanley II rejoined the band, he was in the progress of launching a solo career. Kody left to work with Ralph Stanley II to play banjo and sing baritone in his band.
By chance, Kody attended a local festival simply as a spectator, with friend and instrument artist, Paul Graybeal from Zionville, North Carolina. While there, Kody participated in a jam session and learned that two bands at the festival needed someone to fill in to perform at the festival. Sammy Atkins and The Sandy Hook Mountain Boys and the Cumberland Highlanders allowed Kody to perform with them during the festival. It was then Kody realized how high the bar was set for him, or rather how high he sat the bar for himself. This league of musicians was among his heroes and legends. It was time to move his music career to a different level.
Since this opportunity, Kody has worked with numerous artists like Vince Combs and The Shade Tree Bluegrass Boys, Joe Isaacs, Jesse McReynolds, and many more. Kody then branched out with Tom Isaacs and later formed the Watauga Mountain Boys.
Kody has a powerhouse attitude and retro look with the band. You have to captivate the minds of the people before you can do anything else, says Norris. All the networking with musicians over time has led to the most recent endeavor in Kodys career. In addition to playing in towns all over the country, Kody and the Watauga Mountain Boys routinely perform on RFD-TVs Cumberland Highlanders show. The Cumberland Highlands show put Kody Norris on the map, said Norris.
As Kody takes time to look back, he fondly remembers Betty Brown and Russell Love along with his teachers at Johnson County High School as having helped him so much. As a young adult breaking into the Bluegrass music industry, high school was a bit of a blur. Tired times, long drives, and late nights dotted many of Kodys memories while at Johnson County High School. Living as a high school senior by day and bluegrass entertainer by night was quite a challenge.
Kody has come so far in such a short time. Legends and heroes he once sought after now work among him. People he has looked up to for years and loyally followed are now names he can include in his cell phone. This is his eighth season on the road but Mountain City, Tennessee is home. Kody feels fortunate to have his roots in Mountain City. Proud and full of purpose, Kody has made his mark in the Bluegrass industry and along with others has made Mountain City a part of musical history.
So far, this has been a humbling experience for Kody Norris. To be recognized by the general public or a music icon is a gift. You cant buy these things. You have to put in the time to get that kind of recognition. Kody is grateful to be just a small part of bluegrass music, its history, and its music makers of past and present.
He is also grateful to sponsors such as Diamond Gusset Jean Company. Kody is happy to endorse and work with sponsors who believe in traditional American values and products.
Ive just scratched the surface of where I want to be, says Norris. At the end of the line, an icon is what Kody wants to be, just like those before him whose music is embedded in our souls and replayed in our hearts, loved from the very start. I just want to be real, thats my goal every day, said Norris. No matter how far you go, if you cant be genuine and be yourself, theres no one else you can be. These last few years I have been able to take nothing and make something out of it. Mr. Bluegrass, Kody Norris has made a name for himself and his hometown.