Old-time musician David Burns fiddles with The Corklickers, one of northwest North Carolina’s longest running old-time string bands, and he has been a regular attendee and competitor at regional fiddlers conventions for years. “I’m a southerner,” David says, when asked about where he grew up. “I was born in Atlanta, and moved around Georgia, Alabama, and north Florida and Virginia.” He was fascinated with the banjo early and with the help of Pete Seeger’s book started to teach himself to play about 1970. “I had never heard of old time music but I liked the Kingston Trio and The Highwaymen. They had banjos and I loved the sound.” David attended and graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and became immersed in the local old time music scene there. While living in Knoxville, David and a friend Todd Wright once played fiddle and guitar tunes on Cas Walker’s 5AM television show Farm and Home Hour.
“Soon after starting banjo, I took up the fiddle,” David says. “The more I played old time music, the more I was led to associations and friendships with people playing old-time music.” David met Gil Adams in Knoxville around 1972, and the two started playing a lot of music together. Gil moved to Beech Mountain, and David began visiting Gil, his brother Mark, and other like-minded musicians around Banner Elk, North Carolina. About this time Gil, Mark, Ben Moore, and Clay Buckner started a band called the Coffey Gap Corklickers. David says, “The music they played was as fun as it gets. The Corklickers were influenced a lot by local musicians, also recordings from the twenties like the Skillet Lickers, Uncle Dave Macon, Carter Brothers, the Stoneman Family, and others.” In 1976, David moved to Banner Elk to join his musician friends and build houses.
After moving to North Carolina, David, Ben, Dick Tarrier, and Casey Morrell had a band called The Cat and the Fiddle String Band. They played a few jobs in South Carolina and Georgia. Through Dick and Casey’s connections, they played “The Ark” in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not long afterward, the Coffey Gap Corklicker’s name was shortened to the Corklickers and David and Casey were added as fiddlers, making a three fiddle band with Mark on the banjo, Andy Wallach on bass, and Macky Vannoy on guitar. Clay began playing with the Red Clay Ramblers and Ben and Dick joined up with close friends the Swamp Cats in Greensboro. A Corklicker vinyl LP was made around 1978.
“The Corklickers became busy playing at bars, community gatherings, and festivals as far away as Chicago, Indiana, Michigan, and New York.” David says. “We needed a van and found one at the Boone Ford dealership that Doc and Merle Watson had just traded in the day before, complete with bullet holes in the hubcaps.” The Corklickers were regulars at fiddlers conventions and became friends with Tommy Jarrell, Ora Watson, Will Keys, Albert Hash, Robert Dotson, the Green Grass Cloggers, the Highwoods, and many other fine musicians.
In the mid 1980s, David parted from the band, focusing on raising a family and working, but he never stopped playing. In recent years, with grown children, David has been active in the fiddler’s convention and festival scene once again.“I enjoy learning tunes and playing with as many folks as I can at a festival.” he says. “I enjoy competing too.”
David is back in the regular line-up with The Corklickers, and performing and competing at events and festivals. David helped with workshops at “Breaking Up Winter” a couple of years ago and taught both his sons to play clawhammer banjo. He is available for some teaching. David is also available for performances with The Corklickers.