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Gilliam Banmon G.B. Grayson – a Johnson County fiddler

When it comes to old time fiddle playing, there have been many in the Johnson County Area who were talented with that instrument. But when there’s talk about old time music, the attention may turn to nearly blind fiddler Gilliam Banmon (G. B.) Grayson. Grayson, who was blinded as a child, teamed up with Henry Whitter to play and record some of the most famous songs coming out of the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. Grayson and Whitter recorded “Short Life of Trouble,” “Handsome Mollie,” Cluck Ole Hen,” “Rose Conley,” “Lee Highway Blues,” and others. But no doubt the most famous song recorded by Grayson and Whitter was “Tom Dooley.” That song was later picked up by The Kingston Trio during the folk revival of the 1960s. The song “Tom Dooley,” was written about a man from Wilkes County, North Carolina who fled Wilkes County after being wanted for the murder of Laura Foster. His name was Tom Dula but it became Dooley in the vernacular of that area.

Reportedly Dula crossed the North Carolina line into Tennessee and since his shoes were badly worn, took a job with an influential farmer named James W.M. Grayson. Grayson had attained the rank of Colonel in the Union Army. He worked for Grayson a few days, long enough to buy himself a pair of boots. After his departure, men from North Carolina came to the Grayson home. After finding out that Dula had been there, they along with Grayson, tracked him to a place at Pandora in Tennessee where he was resting after the long walk in his new boots. Dula was captured by Col. Grayson and brought back to Col. Grayson’s home before heading back to North Carolina the next day. This was said to have occurred around July 10, 1866. Dula was later tried and hanged for the crime. Former governor of North Carolina Zebulon B. Vance handled Dula’s defense free due to the governor’s belief he was innocent of the charge.

Anyway, the song that ensued was quite lengthy in its entirety and there have been several versions of the song.
Often called Banmon, Grayson was born in Ashe County, North Carolina on November 11, 1887. Due to his blindness, he was unable to work most jobs, but he could use music as a means of livelihood. And that he did, playing at various places around Johnson County. He teamed up with Henry Whitter in 1925 and they became quite popular recording for Victor and Gennett. Banmon Grayson’s untimely death came as a result of an automobile-truck wreck near Damascus, Virginia, on August 16, 1930. He was 42.
I own two of their 78-rpm records; one is on the Gennett label and one is on the Victor label. The one on the Victor label is playable but unfortunately the one on the Gennett label has been broken. Side A of the Victor has “The Red and Green Signal Lights,” and Side B has “A Dark Road is a Hard Road to Travel.” On Side A of the Gennett record is “Nobody’s Darling,” and on Side B is “Handsome Molly.”