Describing his style of banjo playing, Raymond Fairchild once explained to a writer for Mountain Grown Music, “It ain’t oldtime music, but it ain’t bluegrass. It’s Fairchild style.”
Fairchild was born in 1939 in Cherokee, and was himself half Cherokee. He grew up in a musical family—one of his aunts was a left-handed banjo player-and took up the guitar at the age of eleven. It was not until he was a young man, though, that he first began to learn the banjo. When Fairchild was eighteen years old he had his first banjo, a fretless instrument with a squirrel-hide head. When he had come along a bit in his playing, his father bought him a Gibson banjo and some banjo picks in Asheville. Initially he played with his picks on backwards.
He eventually turned his picks around, but that unconventional beginning foreshadowed the unique “Fairchild style” that he developed. In addition to family musicians, some of Fairchild’s influences were Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Snuffy Jenkins, and other banjo players he heard on jukebox records in Asheville in his youth. He also absorbed the music of black chain-gang prisoners he heard singing when he was a child. Fairchild’s playing drew on bluegrass and early mountain music as well as blues, and stylistically it is known for its great speed.
Raymond Fairchild and his wife Shirley owned and operated the Maggie Valley Opry House, where Fairchild and his Maggie Valley Boys would often play. He was a prominent bluegrass performer since putting together his first band in the mid-1960s, and played many times at the Grand Ole Opry. Two of more than twenty albums he recorded earned him gold records for selling a million copies each. In 1989, Fairchild was inducted to the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPGMA) “Hall of Greats.” Among his many awards was a special home-town honor: visitors to Maggie Valley pass a large sign as they approach town, which reads, “Welcome to Maggie Valley, home of Raymond Fairchild.”
Raymond Fairchild passed away on October 13, 2019 at the age of eighty.