G.B. Grayson

If you happened to listen and play the above YouTube video, what you heard were the sounds of G.B. Grayson featuring Henry Whitter playing the song “Handsome Molly”. G.B. Grayson or Gilliam Banmon Grayson, was an old-time American fiddle player. He was active as a musician and known for his work with guitarist Henry Whitter from 1927-1930.  Grayson was born on November 11, 1887 in Ashe County, North Carolina and died on August 16, 1930 in Damascus, Virginia.

I couldn’t find much more information online about G.B. Grayson outside of Wikipedia. So instead of me rewriting what is on Wikipedia, I’d suggest giving it a look.

It is known he played in a more archaic style, with the fiddle lower on his shoulder as opposed to holding it against his chin. I’d suspect that him playing looked a little like this:

Perhaps he didn’t always play in luscious green fields, but that’s beside the point. From some images it appears he also held it a little bit higher than Truman Price as well. I find this style of playing to be pretty interesting, considering it has stuck around somewhat in modern bluegrass. One example is Trampled By Turtles’ fiddle player, Ryan Young, who often “lazily” holds the fiddle in this sort of loose style of playing.

As I pointed out, Grayson is known for his recordings with Henry Whitter. The two met at a fiddlers convention in Mountain City, Tennessee in 1927 and decided to collaborate as musicians. Most notable of these songs is “Handsome Molly” which sold approximately 50,000 copies.  “Handsome Molly” not the only influential tune the duo played together. Others like “Tom Dooley” and “Cluck Old Hen” are constantly played by bluegrass groups, and plenty of other groups in different genres. Although these songs were not written by him, his recordings are some of the first known, and the first to be popular.

It is interesting to see the effect that Grayson’s recordings and music have played on bluegrass and other styles of music. “Handsome Molly” is known as bluegrass standard and is covered by a variety of groups. From Doc Watson to Tim O’Brien, this song has been played and sang by so many. One fine example:

Hot Rize is a legendary newgrass/bluegrass group featuring giants of bluegrass like Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, and Bryan Sutton. String Cheese Incident is an extremely well known jam-band, that draws from jazz, bluegrass, and other jam bands like the Grateful Dead. I find the combination of these two groups to be pretty awesome.

Further, Grayson’s legacy lives on in other versions of traditional songs by groups such as the Kingston Trio, and the Grateful Dead playing “Tom Dooley”.

The Kingston Trio “Tom Dooley” (1958)

The Grateful Dead’s version (1978)

It’s clear to see that because of G.B. Grayson, and his recordings with Whitter, these old-time songs still exist today and get played. His impact is probably not known to many, but after a quick look into his music I think it’s pretty easy to see.

Once again, if anyone has any comments, discussions, questions, etc.. please feel free to post.
Also, I’m having trouble getting hyperlinks to work in my posts, so if anyone has any idea about them.. that’d be great.

–Ryan Murdock

2 thoughts on “G.B. Grayson”

  1. It looks like the second video and the last video are not showing up on the main blog page, so here are the direct links to all the videos, just in case.

    GB Grayson Handsome Molly:

    Old Time Fiddle – St. Anne’s Reel – Truman Price:

    Hot Rize w/ The String Cheese Incident – “Handsome Molly” :


    Grateful Dead – Tom Dooley 11/17/78 :

  2. Ryan, I enjoyed all of the songs you included in your post. Each band seemed to maintain similar arrangement but perform the songs in their own unique styles. Being the Grateful Dead fan that I am, I especially enjoyed that one. I agree that the low placement of the fiddle is interesting and I wonder if it’s simply an issue of comfort or if it is related to making certain techniques easier to achieve. Also, like so many others, since G.B. Grayson didn’t originally write these songs, I wonder if he strived for replicating originals or if he has a certain sound he attempted to perfect.

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