Tommy Jarrell

Tommy Jarrell, Mt. Airy, NC photo: David Holt ©1976

Tommy Jarrell, Bosco, David

I first met Tommy Jarrell at a fiddlers convention in 1971. He wasn’t known around the country at that time. He was just an old time fiddler and banjo player living in Toast, NC.  When I first heard him, he was in a jam session with bluegrass fiddler Big Joe Greene. It was some of the best music I ever heard. I started going to visit Tommy over the years after that and so did many other young players from around the country. Tommy had an archaic, driving style of playing. He had the most amazing and dexterous bow arm.  You couldn’t help but get up and move when you heard him play and sing.

Many young folks learned his style note for note and soon his reputation spread far and wide even though Tommy didn’t have a phone or drive a car.  Tommy was extremely welcoming to us young hippie musicians, cooking biscuits and gravy and offering a sip of moonshine to wash it down.  Because of the generosity and big personality of Tommy Jarrell, many musicians

Tommy Jarrell's house in Toast, NC

made the pilgrimage to Surry County,  NC.  They found other great players, too, like Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, Earnest East, Benton Flippen, just to name a few.

In time the driving sound of Surry Co. influenced everyone who played old time music even though there were many other distinct styles of old time music in the mountains.

In 2009 we did a Folkways TV show on this very topic. Check it out: