Riley Baugus represents the best of old
time American banjo and song. His powerful singing voice and his expert musicianship
place him squarely in the next generation of the quality American roots tradition.
Riley first came to music through his family. His father had left his roots in the
mountains of North Carolina in the search for work, settling near Winston-Salem and
bringing with him a love of old time music and a record collection that included,
amongst others, the works of fellow North Carolinian Doc Watson, which touched the young Riley on a molecular level.
His family’s attendance at Regular Baptist church gave him early exposure to the unaccompanied
singing that is a time-honored tradition for ballad singers throughout the Appalachians.
Starting on the fiddle, Riley quickly moved on to the banjo, building his first instrument
from scrap wood with his father.
With friend and neighbour, Kirk Sutphin, Riley began honing his musical skills. Together they
visited elder traditional musicians throughout North Carolina and Virginia, learning
the Round Peak style at the knee of National Heritage Award winner Tommy Jarrell and
other traditional musicians of the area, including Dix Freeman, Chester McMillian and
former Camp Creek Boys members Verlin Clifton and Paul Sutphin.
Over the years, whilst working as a weldor and
a blacksmith by day, Riley played with many old time string bands, including the
String Band and the Red Hots. His self-produced recording, "Life Of Riley" (Yodel-Ay-Hee, 2001), showcases his masterful,
elegant banjo playing and his rich, raw boned singing voice.
One fateful day, Riley got a call from longtime friend and collaborator
Dirk Powell. Dirk was involved in the
music direction for the Academy Award-winning film "Cold Mountain" and had convinced the
producers that they needed Civil War era banjos made in the Carolina hills, specifically
Riley’s handmade banjos. They also needed an authentic acapella ballad singer for the
voice of Pangle, played by Ethan
Suplee. Riley put the hammer down on the anvil and didn’t look back. A whirlwind Hollywood
experience ensued, culminating in a place on the star studded
"Great High Mountain" tour.
From there, Riley has made his own path, building in-demand instruments and performing at
festivals all over the world. He made musical contributions to the Appalshop
film, "Thoughts In The Presence of Fear",
and to a film by
Erika Yeomans; "Grand Gorge: No God But Me". He has worked with the
Lonesome Sisters as producer and performer on their recording "Going Home Shoes". Riley collaborated with Laurelyn Dossett and Preston Lane of Triad Stage
on theatrical presentations featuring original and traditional southern Appalachian music.
His next recording, "Long Steel
Rail" (Sugar Hill Records, 2006), produced by Tim O'Brien
and Dirk Powell, appeared to critical acclaim,
with Billboard Magazine heralding it as
"..quintessential American old-time music. The instrumental component is impeccable, while Baugus' vocals sound
like they've been echoing through the Appalachian Mountains for about 150 years."
In 2008, a call from T-Bone Burnett put Riley
back in the studio in Nashville, this time as a contributor to the Grammy award winning Album Of The Year,
"Raising Sand" - the
multi-million selling album by Alison Krauss and
Robert Plant. Two years later, Riley's banjo playing was
featured on Willie Nelson's Grammy nominated recording
Riley has taught at camps and festivals around the world, including
Augusta Heritage Festival and
Augusta Old Time Week,
Mars Hill College's Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week,
Midwest Banjo Camp in Lansing, MI, the
Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, the
Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in
Port Townsend, WA and Sore Fingers Week
in the UK.
When not teaching or building banjos, Riley can be found out on the road performing. He plays with the
Dirk Powell Band and
with Kirk Sutphin. He is a frequent guest
of Polecat Creek and
of Tim O'Brien
with Dirk Powell.
With Ira Bernstein, he presents the show
"Appalachian Roots", a unique
showcase of Appalachian music and dance.
Riley makes his home near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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Last updated: 26th February 2011