Dan Padgett grew up in the community where Earl Scruggs developed his banjo style. Dan himself has been playing banjo since he was a child. His father, Dan says, wanted to play banjo, but he couldn’t afford one, so he sang in a quartet. “From the time I was born, he was on early radio,” he says. His father took Dan with him to the local and regional radio stations to see the live performances that were popular at the time. Since Dan’s father couldn’t afford a banjo and didn’t learn to play, that was his wish for Dan.
When he was just a boy, Dan met the Jenkins family, including banjo pioneers Snuffy and Hoke. “Snuffy had just bought the Gibson Mastertone banjo he was known for,” says Dan. He also met Earl Scrugg’s brother, who came to visit Dan when he was ten years old, and he soon met Earl as well, and they all became friends. “I learned from all the greats around here,” Dan says. Later, when Earl became famous and toured nationally, he would always get in touch with Dan when he returned home to visit so they could get together and play music.
Dan started playing on radio in 1951 on the Teen Timers program at WOHS in Shelby. He played at the station for six years on various programs. His band at the time was called the Gold Star Rambles with Mike Latimore, Ray Cook, and Howard Street. Soon, he was playing on television programs in Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina. “We kept going all through high school,” Dan remembers. After high school, Dan became a student at Wake Forest, where he planned to become a doctor. “After three years, this music kept gnawing at me,” says Dan. “And I thought I’d give it a try.”
After a move to Nashville, he performed on radio with the McCormic Brothers and played for local square dances. Earl Scruggs heard him on the radio one night, tracked down Dan, and left a note asking him to call. Dan called Earl who invited him to come to WSM radio the next morning, reminding Dan to bring his banjo. During the program, Earl had Dan fill in for him during a handful of songs. When the program was over, Earl offered Dan a chance to fill in for him with Flatt and Scruggs while he took a couple weeks off. During this time, Dan became close friends with Earl, carrying his banjo into the Grand Ole Opry every week as his ticket into the back door. Earl even found Dan a chance to play on the Opry, but it was the 1950s, bluegrass was taking a back seat to rock-n-roll, and Dan returned to North Carolina.
Back in North Carolina, Dan went to work with Charlie Moore, playing on television and touring with him all over the east and mid-west. In 1972, Dan formed his own band, the Dixie Rebels, a band name he continues to use today. Over the years, Dan has played many regular gigs at large square dances and music parks. He performs regularly in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and he teaches banjo five days a week, often for ten hours a day. “I’ve really enjoyed it,” says Dan. “And I still enjoy it.”
Dan is available for limited performances. He is also available for limited private lessons.