Randy and Deborah Jean Sheets
Randy Sheets grew up in Grayson County, Virginia surrounded by a musical family and community, and he began playing banjo as a teenager, steeping himself in the traditional music of the region. Randy’s uncles were old time musicians, including Joe Sheets on his father’s side and Rudy Perkins on his mother’s side. Ola Belle Campbell Reed is his mother’s first cousin, and Randy spent some time around her as a child. He also lived just a mile from Albert Hash‘s house. “There was always music at Albert’s,” he remembers. Randy was a good friend of Thornton and Emily Spencer who owned an old general store where music was frequently played. Randy also got to meet Smith Greer and Wade Ward. He visited Kyle Creed while Kyle worked on the banjo that Randy continues to play today. “Kyle showed me some stuff on the banjo,” says Randy.
Deborah Jean grew up in Durham and got interested in traditional music through the folk revival. She started playing guitar, taking lessons from Beth Jones. After a while, Deborah Jean drifted to the banjo and started listening to old country duets such as the Louvin Brothers and the Delmore Brothers. She played music with Gay Gingrich and other musicians in the area interested in similar music. She fell in love with oldtime fiddle tunes at an oldtime jam session in western North Carolina, where she was surrounded by excellent fiddlers and banjo players such as Rafe Stefanini and Paul Brown.
Randy and Deborah Jean met at one of these music parties. When they were first married, they lived in Avery County, but they moved to the Bethel community in Watauga County about twenty-five years ago. Randy and Deborah Jean Sheets have been performing oldtime mountain music together and as The Sheets Family for many years. She loves to sing and often adds the harmony vocal when she performs with a group. The couple also gets bands together for an occasional square dance and they participate as contestants at fiddlers conventions throughout the Appalachian region. Randy is also an award winning flat-foot dancer and performs regularly at the Blue Ridge Music Center, along with his 89-year-old mother.
This husband and wife team have played for a variety of radio programs including “The Bluegrass and Old Time Show,” on WKSK, “Studio One,” on WETS and “Blue Ridge Backroads,” a live radio broadcast from the historic Rex Theatre in Galax, Virginia. They also played for the inaugural season at the Blue Ridge Music Center at Fishers Peak along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Galax, Virginia, sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. They play the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum, Virginia, Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol, Tennessee, and Seedtime on the Cumberland in Whitesburg, Kentucky. They were invited to appear (along with Dale Jett, Linda and David Lay) as part of the Carter Family Band to represent Janette Carter at the National Heritage Awards in September of 2005. They got together again as part of the Crooked Road Show at the National Folk Festival in Richmond, Virginia.
Randy and Deborah Jean Sheets now perform primarily as the Sheets Family with their daughter, Kelly Sheets Snider, who plays old-time fiddle and sings harmony. Kelly began singing with her mom when she was 13.
2008 saw the release of The Sheets Family CD, featuring husband-and-wife and mother-and-daughter duets with both old-time and original songs. They have since released another recording called Southern Girl’s Reply.
The Sheets Family is available for performances. Randy and Deborah Jean also available for workshops on harmony singing, and music for square dances. Deborah Jean is a schoolteacher, so they are mostly available on evenings and weekends and during summer months.