Lawrence Wiseman grew up in the Spear Community in Avery County in a musical family, and he has played music professionally since he was in his teens. His mother and father both played music as well as his older brother and a sister. Lawrence started playing fiddle when he was twelve years old, teaching himself by observing and listening to the music around him. The first tune he learned was “John Brown’s Dream.”
At the age of fifteen, he joined a band with Leroy Johnson and Cecil Burleson as the Singing Cowboys. The played on WWNC radio in Asheville early in the morning on the weekends. On one trip to Asheville, Lawrence heard the Rouse brothers play and decided to visit them. Ervin Rouse, the writer of “Orange Blossom Special,” spent an hour and a half for each of five days showing Lawrence the tune. Lawrence recorded the famous fiddle tune in 1936 with Leroy Johnson backing him up on guitar. “He wrote this train tune and wanted me to learn it,” says Lawrence. “And he taught it to me. He said “Play it everywhere you go.’ I play it everywhere I go.”
Lawrence cites Ervin Rouse, Fiddlin Arthur Smith, and Hugh Farr of Sons of the Pioneers, as his biggest influences. He only bought one album in his life, he says, a Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith record for thirty-five cents when he was fourteen years old. Lawrence played on a number of radio stations for fifteen years all around the region. He would play on the radio during the week and in schoolhouses and shows at night on the weekends. He recorded eight songs for RCA in Atlanta in 1940, and he was in the studio with the Delmore Brothers.
Lawrence spent forty-five years away from Avery County while working for the Navy, but he continued playing music the entire time. He has been back in Avery County for twenty-five years and stays musically active. “My fingers are still as limber as when I was a teenager,” he says. “My bowing arm’s pretty good. I play a little every day.” These days, Lawrence plays with Jim and Jennie Vance at their music barn. He usually plays fiddle, but he also plays guitar and mandolin. He has written a number of songs, and he sings harmony.
Lawrence plays fiddle with Jim and Jennie Vance. They are available for performances when they’re not playing at Jim and Jennie’s High Country Music Barn, on Saturdays in the summer.