Dock Walsh

Photo by Eugene Earle. Archie Green Collection (#20002), Southern Folklife Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sights & Sounds

Types of Artistry

Historic Artist

Dock Walsh

Banjo player and singer

Wilkes County, NC

Wilkes County native Doctor "Dock" Walsh recorded dozens of songs in the 1920s, both solo and with the Carolina Tar Heels, and performed as the self-proclaimed "Banjo King of the Carolinas." Walsh was born into a family of musicians, and he learned to play banjo at a very young age on a fretless instrument made with an axle-grease box. He was performing locally by the time he was a teenager, and he became known for placing pennies under the bridge of his banjo, so he could play in a "bottle-neck" slide style. He was the first to record this slide style on the banjo.

Walsh made his first solo recordings in 1925 and 1926 in Atlanta, including the earliest-known recording of "In the Pines." He teamed up with harmonica and guitar player Gwen Foster in 1926, with whom he recorded as the Carolina Tar Heels for Ralph Peer in 1927. Another harmonica player, Garley Foster, soon replaced Gwen (to whom he was unrelated), and Tom Ashley was added to the band in 1928. The trio made several recordings, and Walsh and Garley Foster continued to record together until 1932.

With recording sales plummeting from the Depression, Dock found work in the poultry and then automotive parts businesses. He continued to perform locally with Foster and his son Drake Walsh, who was fiddling for local bluegrass bands. The three made a recording in 1962, released on Folk Legacy.

Dock Walsh passed away in 1967. His son Drake continued to perform several songs from his father's repertoire, often with the Elkville String Band, until his death in 2010.

 

Note: "Historic Artist" designates one who is deceased but whose legacy continues to influence and inspire new generations.