Emily Schaad and Leila Weinstein, Co-PIs
Eric Ellis was born in 1958 and grew up in Wilkes County. Ellis learned to play thorugh self-tuition and family influence. His maternal grandfather, Ed Pierce, played banjo, his uncle, Bill Johnson of Miller's Creek, helped to make his first banjo, and his cousin, David Johnson is a well-known fiddler. His father and maternal grandfather also played music. Eric has won several banjo contests including the state banjo title at the North Carolilna State Fiddlers's Convention (1976, 1978), the Galax Old Fiddlers' Convention (1981), and the state title at the Mountain State Fair in Asheville (2004). He has also played and recorded with many historically important bluegrass musicians including Jim Shumate, Charlie Monroe, Chubby Wise, and Wes Golding and Surefire. He stood in for Bela Fleck when the Tony Rice Unit played with Jim Buchanan at the Birchmere (a renowned venue in Alexandri, VA) in 1985, and was a member of the Bluegrass Times, Wells Fargo, and was a founding member of Ric-O-Chet.
The first goal of this project is to produce a high-quality CD by a musician who, although well-known in bluegrass circles, has not yet reached the wider audience he deserves. This CD will enable Eric Ellis to receive both recognition and income from an audience that has known him only in a supporting role, as well as from those who do not know him at all.
The second goal will be to document an important participant in the rich musical history of Wilkes County. Bluegrass banjo was perfected by North Carolinians such as Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, but Wilkes County is particularly important in the history of bluegrass as the hometown of the Church Brothers, a significant early bluegrass band; Blue Ridge Records, a record company that recorded the Church Brothers; the Stanley Brothers and others during the 1950s; and numerous musicians who went on to play with regional and national acts. Liner notes will place Eric Ellis' music in this regional context.
The product of this $7250 grant will be a professional audio recording on CD, featuring Eric Ellis' banjo playing and outstanding ensemble leadership skills. It will be recorded at Star Recording Studio in Miller's Creek, NC on a 16-track 2-inch analog tape, and mixed to a digital format by David Johnson. It will be professionally mastered and duplicated by Oasis, and promoted through performances, reviews in bluegrass print and media outlets, as a CD release concert at Appalachian State University. Extensive liner notes will be provided by the production team. The CD, as well as taped interviews and performances, will be archived in the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University. Production will be overseen by Eric Ellis and David Haney.
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