Robert Wells has studied, played, and listened to mountain music for more than fifty years, and he is an encyclopedia of the traditional music from his home area in Rutherford County. A descendant of Scots-Irish ancestors who settled in the county in 1790, Robert was raised in a musical family. His music collection includes an instrument that has been in his family for 150 years
“I have played music all my life for nursing homes, benefits, school functions, fiddlers’ conventions, and Shindig on the Green in Asheville,” says Robert. “I’ve played all over.” Guitar and bass are his main instruments, but he also plays a few tunes on the fiddle, some mandolin, and a little banjo. His mother’s family sang shape notes, and Robert’s grandfather was a shape-note teacher. “I could sing shape notes, but I was always bashful about singing in public,” he says. “I might not have done my share of singing, but I’ve certainly done my share of playing.”
Robert grew up in the area of North Carolina where Snuffy Jenkins, Earl Scruggs, and other three-finger banjo pickers were developing what is now the common bluegrass banjo style popularized by Scruggs. Robert knew Scruggs and his brother Horace, and he got to hear the Jenkins family members play. “Nobody, nowhere was as good as DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins,” says Robert. “He played a little different style of music than the others.” He says that Jenkins and Earl Scruggs were the best banjo pickers in the county.
Robert has a deep interest in the history of the music of Rutherford County and the surrounding region. He has researched musicians, including Scotty and Lulu Bell Wiseman, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Horace Scruggs, and Emmett Miller.
He is also interested in helping celebrate and keep the music traditions alive. “I started the Ellenboro Fiddlers Convention,” he says, a festival that has been going on for more than a decade. Today, music in Rutherford County and the surrounding region is alive and well. “There’s a lot of interest in the young folks in learning to play this music,” Robert says.
Robert Wells is available for performances.