Bill Van Hoy was born and raised in Yadkin County in the small community of Hamptonville where he was surrounded by traditional music. George Ireland, Bill’s grandfather on his mother’s side, was “one of the best fiddle players around,” according to Bill. George also played the banjo. George, who died in 1955 at the age of eighty-eight, helped start the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention with the Van Hoy family in the school house in Union Grove. Bill’s mother, Bessie Ireland, played guitar and autoharp, and her brothers played music as well.
Bill bought his first guitar when he was sixteen, and his mother showed him some chords to get him started. “There was music in the family,” he says, “I just took it up.” Bill joined the Navy soon after high school and left home for four years. Throughout his years in service he continued playing guitar. Bill married after he got out of the service and moved back to Yadkin County. He had no guitar at the time, but his wife bought him one, and he started playing regularly. “I was playing a lot of bluegrass and country back then,” he says.
Bill started the Grass Valley Boys, which has been his primary band for more than thirty years. A number of musicians have played with Bill in the band over the years. Recently, Jeff Michael and Mike Southern have played with him. At one time, the band played an area from Virginia down to Georgia. “I used to play pretty regularly,” says Bill. He has played on regional radio stations many times with his Grass Valley Boys. Bill plays guitar and sings lead with the group. When asked about his influences, Bill says, “I preferred Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. I also liked Reno and Smiley, and the Stanley Brothers influenced me a lot too.”
Bill is a regular participant at fiddlers’ conventions in the region. He has won several folksong competitions at Mount Airy Fiddler’s Convention and he also won the folksong competition twice at Galax. Like many bluegrass musicians, Bill plays several instruments. “I also fool with the banjo some,” he says. In fact, Bill helped teach Jimmy Paschal who has become an outstanding banjo picker in the area. Bill plays less frequently these days, but he is still interested in performing, and he loves to talk about the music and its history.
The Grass Valley Boys last played a few years ago, and Bill continues recovery from a work injury to his neck. He is interested in continuing to play and perform. He welcomes inquiries and is happy to play for events.