Cecil Palmer grew up in Caldwell County, and learned to play Merle Travis-style guitar in the early 1950s. “When I started playing thumb-style guitar,” he says, “there wasn’t anybody in the area playing that style to watch.” There were no musical instruments around Cecil’s house when he was a child, but he bought himself a guitar from a pawnshop in Hickory for $19.95 when he was a teenager. A friend showed him a few chords, and with that he started playing. One of his early influences was Caldwell County native Carolina Ray Whisnant. “I watched him play, and he helped me get started,” Cecil says. When Whisnant enlisted in the Navy, Cecil was on his own. “You learned wherever you could,” he says. He listened to Merle Travis and Chet Atkins records and mastered the thumb-style guitar playing.
In 1959, Cecil began performing with local bands. Through the 1960s, he played at area dances, events, and bars. “We played in Hickory, Wilkesboro, everywhere they had dances,” he says. When Carolina Ray Whisnant returned from Service, Cecil reports that “I helped Ray with most of his records.” In the 1970s, Cecil began to work in Moose lodges, and for years he performed in lodges as far west as Nashville and all over the Carolinas.
Around 1990, Cecil and his group began playing at the Smoke Creek Barbeque on Union Grove Road in Caldwell County. On one weekend a month for 17 years they provided music.
Cecil has performed with several groups of local musicians, including the Rhythm Kings, Kings and Queens, and his current group, Quest. He can play popular country music, and he always plays what the audience wants to hear.
Cecil Palmer is available for performances.