|Q. When did you start playing music?
A. I started drumming on the furniture when I was in elementary school. At 14 I actually started taking drum lessons. I began learning the banjo when I was 22. Music has always been important to me, but I have college degrees in biology, art and elementary education.
Q. Why did you start playing folk music?
A. I fell in love with the sound of the old-time banjo. I just wanted to learn to play for my own enjoyment. It slowly grew into a career.
Q. How many instruments do you play?
A. I play banjo, guitar, slide guitar, uke, bantar, hammered dulcimer, lap dulcimer, autoharp, bones, spoons, harmonica, jaw harp, mouth bow, washboard and paper bag.
Q. Why do you play so many?
A. I really like the sounds they make. Each one creates a different mood. When I came to the mountains I was surprised to see the variety of instruments that people played. I want to show that diversity in my programs. I try to play even the very basic ones like the spoons or washboard as musically as possible and not as a gimmick.
Q. Who did you learn from?
A. When I first came to the southern mountains, I was surprised to see how many people still played this music. Many of them were old-timers and were more than happy to show a young person like me how to play. As it turned out, I learned a lot more than music from these men and women. They became my heroes and mentors.
Q. What is your favorite instrument?
A. The old-time banjo is still my favorite and best instrument.
Q. Do you have a family?
A. Yes, I live with my wife Ginny outside of Asheville, NC. Our son Zeb works for NBC Universal directing their web development team in New York City. Our wonderful daughter Sara Jane died in an automobile accident when she was 10 in 1989. We miss her every day.
Q. Where have you traveled playing music?
A. I have played in almost every state in the country. For the U.S. State Department I have traveled to Africa, South East Asia, Latin America, Canada and Europe.
Q. Do you always wear a hat?
A. I love hats. I’ve been collecting fedoras from the 1930s and 40s for a long time. When I started playing on television the hat became a trademark. Now, I always wear a hat when I perform. I also collect neckties from the same period.