Brian Yerman grew up in upstate New York, but but lived in southern Appalachia playing guitar with old-time musicians since the mid-1970s. After the move, Brian sought out and hosted traditional mountain musicians in Wytheville, Virginia, and Watauga County, North Carolina, where his old-time music parties become legendary. He started singing gospel music in 1993 with Boone’s Mennonite Brethren Church and with a group he performed with at MerleFest.
His musical path began with the trombone. Brian began learning to play trombone in sixth grade, and he excelled as a member of the all-school band and orchestra. He traveled with a drum and bugle group to competitions in the summer. He even studied music during his military service with the Navy. While he was in the Navy, Brian went on two cruises to the Mediterranean and visited Spain. “On our second trip, in 1969, I bought a guitar,” he said. When they returned to base in Virginia Beach, Brian started taking classical guitar lessons while he listened to popular music of the period ranging from The Beatles to Donovan to the Incredible String Band. He soon discovered bluegrass music and the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album. “That changed everything,” he said. When the Carter Family recordings caught his attention, he became interested in Mother Maybelle’s guitar playing. That influence remained recognizable in his guitar playing the rest of his life.
Around 1973, Brian moved to Rural Retreat near Wytheville, Virginia, and he met a community of old-time musicians who became important to him including Jerry Correll, Dale Morris, Randy Sheets, Thornton and Emily Spencer, and Kyle Creed. He recorded an album with Kyle Creed and Emily Spencer in 1979 on Mountain Records called Liberty: Kyle Creed & His Claw-Hammer Banjo with Guitar. He also met Tom Mylet and John Hillston and started a band called Blue Ridge Allstars.
He struck up a friendship with Gil Adams of the Corklickers at a fiddler’s convention in 1975. From that time on, Brian has played music with the Corklickers, and filled in on guitar for the band many times. In 1978 he moved to the Matney Community in Watauga County, close to his friends in the Corklickers, and he lived in and around Boone for the rest of his life. His house became a hot spot for old-time music parties, attracting musicians from all over the county and region. “We had a real nice place up there,” Brian remembered. Brian developed friendships with many of the musicians and tradition bearers of the area, including Ray Hicks for whom Brian helped produce an album on the June Appal label. “Ray was a real good friend of mine,” Brian sais.
Brian Yerman passed away on December 21, 2020.