Drake Walsh started playing banjo when he was about six or seven years old, and he has been playing traditional mountain music ever since then. The son of 1920s RCA and Columbia recording artist, Dock Walsh, Drake always loved the traditional music he heard when he was growing up. He would even risk sneaking out his father’s banjo to practice, in spite of his parents’ fears that he would break the precious instrument.
Dock Walsh was a well-known and respected musician whose music is included on the North Carolina Banjo Collection album produced by Bob Carlin to honor the amazing banjo playing traditions of the state. He played with many local musicians, and Drake was a beneficiary of these sessions. Watauga County’s Ora Watson, a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient, remembers playing with Dock. Rick Ward, also of Watauga County, remembers his grandfather, musician Tab Ward, talking about playing with Dock Walsh.
Through his military service during the Korean War, Drake met other traditional string musicians from Tennessee, Texas, and New York. The group needed a fiddler, so Drake began to focus more on the fiddle. Drake continued playing music throughout his life, but in his later years played mostly fiddle and mandolin. His band, The Elkville Stringband, was the house band for the Tom Dooley Legend performances in Wilkes County. They also performed for restaurants, festivals, radio programs, and shows in the area. Other members of the group include Herb Key, Bill Williams, Jim Lloyd, and Nicole Vidrine.
For forty-five years, Drake made his living working for BP oil. When he retired he spent more time for music and performed regularly at venues all around the region. While the fiddle and mandolin were his primary instruments, he also played harmonica and the pre-bluegrass three-finger banjo style that his father used to play.
Drake passed away on November 23, 2010.