Growing up out Proctor: Musical Mentors
Two much older “out-Proctor” musicians were tremendously influential for me. Brady Colvin lived about two miles out Proctor on Route 89 along the creek and had a son, Jim, born on the same day and year as me. Brady was the best fiddler and five-string banjo player in Wetzel County. He had a square dance band with another neighbor, Don Spencer, and often played at places like the Community Hall at St. Joseph’s Church much further out Proctor. After working his day job, Brady sometimes could be seen sitting on his porch playing music. Brady was kind enough to take the time to show me licks and tunes on the banjo, valuable for my development as a player. I’m indebted to him for a lifetime of enjoyment playing banjo.
Gay Schwing was my other big local musical influence. Gay grew up in a cabin on Burch Ridge near the Wetzel/Marshall County line “far out” Proctor. Gay was recognized for his great singing voice and his wonderful way with people. He was extremely personable and just about anybody who met him liked him instantly. Gay was born to be a hillbilly singer. By the 40s and 50s, he had a very popular regional band called Gay Schwing and the Boys from the Hills. He had an invitation to go to Nashville but decided instead to stay in northern West Virginia to raise his family. When I first met Gay, he was retired from music and running a fruit/vegetable truck that ran by our house once a week. His daughter Jean married my first cousin Jack Eller, youngest son of Uncle Okey. They lived in a house they built next door to Uncle Okey’s house just across a cow pasture from our place.
Gay learned of my interest in banjo and before we knew it, about once a week we would jam at his place or ours. Gay’s wonderful voice, awesome old Martin guitar, endless knowledge of great country songs and how to perform them, and engaging personality hooked me. I don’t know why he was so accessible to me, a totally green new player, after spending much of his life around outstanding country musicians, but I’m thankful because he taught and inspired me so much.
In the early sixties when I was about fifteen, the legendary country and bluegrass music hall of famer Mac Wiseman was managing the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling. Mac was in the first Flatt and Scruggs Foggy Mountain Boys band and was one Bill Monroe’s earliest Blue Grass Boys. Mac went on to have an amazing international music career on his own. Gay knew Mac well from the 1950s and called him up to see if we could get on the Jamboree to play a couple of songs. To my astonishment, Mac invited us to play two songs on stage at the big Saturday night radio show. We did Salty Dog Blues and another song I don’t remember. Back stage I saw the legendary Stanley Brothers, who would take their mountain bluegrass band on stage right after us. I remember how sick Carter looked. Within a month, on December 1, 1966, Carter Stanley died of cirrhosis. Wow, what an experience for a young kid!