The Carolina Tar Heels

The Carolina Tar Heels was an American old time string band featuring a rotating group of four musicians from the mountains of North Carolina. The group first began to form in 1927 when Dock Walsh (banjo and lead vocals) and Gwen Foster (guitar, harmonica, vocals) traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to record songs for RCA Victor. Songs recorded during this session include “Going to Georgia,” “There Ain’t No Use Working So Hard,” “Her Name Was Hula Lou,” and “Bring Me a Leaf From the Sea.”

A year later some changes to the group’s line up were made. Guitar player Clarence “Tom” Ashley was added and Gwen Foster was replaced with Garley Foster (no relation) on guitar and harmonica. The group continued to record with the Victor label six more times, recording 18 records overall. The last recording sessions for the Carolina Tar Heels took place after the Great Depression, in which the economic hardship ended up being a contributing factor to the disbandment of the group in 1932.

The Carolina Tar Heels’ Dock Walsh implemented a three-finger banjo picking style, which was common at the time. However, one aspect of the group that was unique was that the Tar Heels did not have a fiddle as most string bands did at the time. Instead this role was replaced with the harmonica playing of Gwen Foster and Garley Foster. Gwen Foster’s harmonica playing has led to him being referred to as one of the greatest harmonica players in country music and all time.

After many decades of inactivity, the Carolina Tar Heels were reformed in the early 1960s with Doc Walsh, his son Drake, and Garley Foster. This version of the band recorded an LP for Folk Legacy in 1964.

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