Wayne Ledford was born into a musical family in the Little Rock Creek community of Mitchell County. “I play by ear,” he said. “I couldn’t hardly reach around my guitar when I started.” The youngest of 11 children, he began playing guitar to provide some backup rhythm for his brother Steve, who played fiddle. Their father was a good oldtime fiddler, and Wayne remembered Arthur Smith and the Dixieliners staying with his family when they were in the area.
Wayne was steeped in the traditional mountain music of the area. “You can’t hear much of the good oldtime music anymore,” he said. The first song he remembered learning was “Bachelor Blues,” written by a local songwriter, Ham Welch. Other tunes that were part of his earliest repertoire include “Little Maggie,” “Big Eyed Rabbit,” and “What Will You Do With the Baby?” “I like bluegrass,” Wayne said. “I can play bluegrass, but I like oldtime the best.” In addition to being influenced by family and local musicians, Wayne remembered listening to Riley Puckett on the radio and cited him as an early influence. “I could listen to a tune on the radio, and I could go right into the other room and play it and sing it,” he said.
The guitar was his instrument throughout his performing career. Wayne played guitar with a number of musicians over the years including Charlie and Bill Monroe, Clyde Moody, Zeke and Wiley Morris, and Roy Hall. He also played with local oldtime fiddler Red Wilson. He performed in venues all over the country, including Chicago and Michigan in the early 1970s. He played on radio stations throughout the region, including WWNC in Asheville, WPTF in Raleigh, and stations in Bristol and Johnson City. With his brother, Wayne recorded an album for Rounder Records called The Ledford Brothers, which came out in 1972. Wayne also played in a band with Berlin Ledford (no immediate relation) called the Glenn Ayre Ramblers for a number of years.
In addition to playing guitar, Wayne did a lot of tenor singing. He also called square dances. He played for many square dances over the years and eventually learned to call the dances himself.
Wayne Ledford passed away on October 1, 2016 at the age of 94.