Riley Baugus: The Real and Honest Music

Riley Baugus

Riley Baugus represents the best of old time American banjo and song. His powerful singing voice and his expert musicianship place him squarely in the next generation of the quality American roots tradition. We’re excited to welcome Riley back to Centrum to be on faculty at the 2013 Voice Works gathering.

Riley first came to music through his family. His father had left his roots in the mountains of North Carolina in the search for work, settling near Winston-Salem and bringing with him a love of old time music and a record collection that included, amongst others, the works of fellow North Carolinian Doc Watson, which touched the young Riley on a deep level.

With friend and neighbour, Kirk Sutphin, Riley began honing his musical skills. Together they visited elder traditional musicians throughout North Carolina and Virginia, learning the Round Peak style at the knee of National Heritage Award winner Tommy Jarrell and other traditional musicians of the area, including Dix Freeman, Chester McMillian and former Camp Creek Boys members Verlin Clifton and Paul Sutphin.

Over the years, while working as a welder and a blacksmith by day, Riley played with many old time string bands, including the Old Hollow String Band and the Red Hots.

One fateful day, Riley got a call from longtime friend and collaborator Dirk Powell. Dirk was involved in the music direction for the Academy Award-winning film “Cold Mountain” and had convinced the producers that they needed Civil War era banjos made in the Carolina hills, specifically Riley’s handmade banjos. They also needed an authentic acapella ballad singer for the voice of Pangle, played by Ethan Suplee. Riley put the hammer down on the anvil and didn’t look back. A whirlwind Hollywood experience ensued, culminating in a place on the star studded “Great High Mountain” tour.

From there, Riley has made his own path, building in-demand instruments and performing at festivals all over the world.

He was a contributor to the Grammy award winning Album Of The Year, “Raising Sand” – the multi-million selling album by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and his banjo playing was featured on Willie Nelson’s Grammy nominated recording “Country Music“.

The fine folks over at Hearth Music put together an excellent interview with Riley that we encourage you to read. Riley is eloquent in his description of why sings and plays music.

“In this day and age where people rely on the stores and corporations to tell them what they need, how they should look, what to eat, what to wear, what to listen to and so on, I think that many people are looking for something that is real and connected to the culture of a simpler place and time, and traditional music is one of those things. I feel that this is the very reason that I can have a career playing the traditional music of the United States, because it is real, and honest and connected to the Earth and the soul and the spirit of people and with times past, long ago.”

Read the whole interview at Hearth Music.