R.G. Absher was born in West Jefferson, in Ashe County, and he has lived in western North Carolina most of his life. He first remembers paying attention to the sound of a banjo at nine years old when he heard the soundtrack for the movie Bonnie and Clyde. He got interested in playing music himself and started learning from friends and older musicians in the area. R.G. spent time with Al Wood, a banjo player from Alexander County, Fred Weaver, an oldtime two-finger banjo player from Alleghany County, and Bill Young, a finger-style guitar picker who also played rock-a-billy. He has also studied the styles of Earl Scruggs, Bill Emerson, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Thompson, Bill Keith, Ben Eldridge, and Jack Hicks.
When R.G. started making trips to the British Isles in the early 1990s, he became fascinated with the traditional music he found there and studied it intensely. “I wanted to give my music the hook of Irish influence,” he says. He especially likes Tim O’Brien “and other crossover work between Irish and bluegrass music.”
In 1992, he started the band Extra Measure as a musical tribute to Bill Young. Young was one of the founders of Merlefest and has been influential among musicians in the area. R.G. has performed at every Merlefest since it began in 1987, and Extra Measure has played since forming in 1992. With Absher playing banjo, the group, later renamed Banknotes, has recorded six albums since 1995, and has received favorable reviews in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
R.G. is a versatile musician, adept at hammered dulcimer, guitar, banjo, and fiddle. He has produced seven albums and performed extensively in a variety of venues from festivals and stage performances to schools. His musical style is based on the Southern Appalachian influences that shaped the region’s bluegrass and acoustic stringband music, but other influences are also evident. He has, for example, toured Ireland extensively, learning Irish fiddle and ancient Celtic tunes that he then adapted to the hammered dulcimer.
R.G. Absher is available for performances with his bluegrass band, Banknotes, with his Celtic bands, Celtic Sessions and Celtic Connection, bluegrass gospel group Mountain Heritage, or as a solo performer. His Celtic band plays traditional music and tavern songs from the early American period. He is a history buff who enjoys learning about the music he plays, and in his presentations he uses historic themes relating to such topics as Celtic influences, early bluegrass nostalgia, and even moonshining.