Cullen Galyean was born and raised in Low Gap, North Carolina, surrounded by music in his family and in the community. Cullen played with some of the bluegrass legends, including Ralph Stanley, Charlie Monroe (Bill’s brother), and Hylo Brown, and he spent a lifetime playing traditional mountain bluegrass. His parents were musicians, and his grandfathers both played as well. His father primarily played the fiddle, but he also played clawhammer banjo. His mother played clawhammer banjo, but she primarily played the guitar and the organ in the house.
Saturday nights were often music nights. Sometimes his parents would play for house parties in the community, his father on fiddle and mother on guitar. They all listened to the radio. “We had an old type radio, the kind you used to sit in the corner,” he said. “I used to sit and listen to it on Saturday nights. And I used to crawl in under it so the speaker was over my head. And mom would drag me out from under it because I would fall asleep because I loved that music so good.”
“I’ve always loved music,” he said, “even before I knew what it was.” Around the age of nine, he began to play some guitar. His older brother showed him three chords, and he took it from there. Soon he started playing with his father’s old fiddle, and then he began to learn to play the mandolin. But, the banjo became his first love. Cullen listed Earl Scruggs and Don Reno as musical influences, but he cited Ralph Stanley as his greatest influence. He preferred the mountain-style traditional bluegrass that the Stanley Brothers perfected over the more modern bluegrass sounds.
When he was sixteen, he joined his first band with James Lindsey and the Mountain Ramblers in Galax, Virginia. Later he joined a band with Bobby Harrison and Ivory Melton. They played at fiddlers’ conventions and other performance venues. He played all over Virginia and North Carolina, and on the Grand Ole Opry in 1972. He recorded about seven or eight albums over the years.
To make a living, Cullen worked with his dad at a sawmill for twenty years. He also worked as a produce delivery person and as a security guard. Cullen loaned his son, Mickey, several years ago, and after two weeks Mickey had figured out a tune or two. In Cullen’s last years, they played together in a bluegrass band, helping to carry on the family musical tradition.
Cullen passed away on July 13, 2010.