Banjo player, Chris Johnson, was one of the first young and enthusiastic Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) students in Alleghany County who helped inspire a high school program, and he continues playing today with his former teacher, Lucas Pasley.
Chris grew up in Alleghany County and was drawn to the music of the region at an early age. “I always remember liking bluegrass music,” he recalls. When Chris was in sixth grade, his cousin, Justin Wiley, inspired him to join the school’s JAM program. He decided to try learning banjo, and Pasley ended up being his teacher. Chris took to the instrument and music quickly and became one of Pasley’s most dedicated students, continuing in the program through eighth grade.
At the time, the Alleghany JAM ended in middle school, and Chris and Justin went into high school without a lessons program to continue. Pasley taught English at the high school and wanted to continue working with some of the Alleghany middle school JAM graduates. Pasley started an after school jam session once a week. The group got together after school, and Pasley would teach them tunes. They continued spending time together and eventually morphed into a band they called Borderline, playing local fiddlers conventions, dances, and events. “JAM is really what got me into old-time music and playing,” Chris says.
After high school, Chris trained to become a paramedic, taking a job in the Winston-Salem area and living there for several years. While there, Chris met a training officer who also played old-time fiddle, and the two started playing music together. They joined the local Folk Society and helped create a weekly jam session. “I played a lot of music while I was living there,” Chris says.
When the opportunity arose, Chris moved back to Alleghany County, and he immediately called Pasley to get together and play music. The two have continued playing together informally and performing in various combinations. Chris has also been learning to play old-time fiddle.
Chris and Lucas currently have a group called Gap Civil, which was the original name for the Sparta community. The group includes Rob Mangum and Ibi Pasley. They are available for performances and to play for dances.