The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 2

Kyle Creed - A 1966 Interview
By Charlie Faurot with Tom Mylet and Kirk Sutphin
Kyle Creed at Galax. Photo by Tom Mylet

Kyle Creed was a man of many dimensions. He built and ran his own country store, organized wagon trains and string bands, built banjos, carpentered across the United States (and Iceland), and played outstanding fiddle and banjo.

From his first recording in 1965 to his appearances at fiddle contests and festivals, Creed’s clean, concise banjo playing resonated among banjo players across the country and was quickly picked up by the younger players. Today his style can be widely heard on contest stages, in the fields behind, and on the CDs of the musicians who play in his style. He is one of the three major banjo players – along with Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell – whose playing was at the old-time roots of today’s Round Peak style.

One distinctive feature of Kyle’s playing was that he played over the neck, his first finger never over the head, and the thumb hitting the strings as low as the twelfth fret. He was the only old-time banjo player that I recorded from 1956 to 1972 who played that way. That list includes the Round Peak group of Kyle, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Gilmer Woodruff, and Esker Hutchins. It also includes other great clawhammer players such as Lily May Ledford, Willard Watson, Gaither Carlton, Buell Kazee, Woody Wachtell (who learned from Rufus Crisp), Sydna Myers, Matokie Slaughter, Mildred Thompson, Glen Smith, George Stoneman, and Wade Ward. Kyle didn’t have a problem with his thumb hitting the fingerboard because he set up his banjos with a high action so that the strings near the rim had lots of clearance.

Kyle never made a scooped-out neck, but he helped popularize the form. Other people who played over the neck had a problem because of the low action on their “regular” banjos. In the early 1970s, several young banjo builders began making banjos with scooped-out necks which give the player room for his thumb and fingers. One of these was Bob Flescher, who made a scooped-out neck for Ray Alden. Bob wrote to me in a recent email,

I attended my first Galax convention in 1969 with the idea of meeting Kyle and Wade Ward. I saw and recorded every possible banjo picker I could find there and I guarantee Kyle was the only banjo picker to play over the fingerboard, so that style was not the popular style some make it out to be . . . Several years later I went down to a festival in West Virginia, Kyle drove up to meet me there. I had set up tables to sell banjo parts for Liberty Banjo that I owned. Kyle went to sleep under one of my tables. When he awoke he heard some "Round Peak," although it wasn’t called that then, picking, and he said, "Everywhere I go I hear myself playing."

I agree with Bob that the term “Round Peak music” hadn’t arrived yet back in the mid-1960s. It was commonly used in the 1970s. Without Kyle, the term might never have come into existence. Just think of the number of banjo players who now play above the rim; the number that alternate the first finger and thumb the way he did. Even Fred Cockerham might never have started playing the banjo again (he always considered himself first and foremost a fiddler) had Kyle not made him the fretless, slot-headed, gold-speckled, Formica-topped banjo he used until he died.

This interview took place in Kyle’s store on November 26, 1966, before he began building his house in back, and before he began building his own rims for his banjos. He didn’t waste a lot of time with words. You’d ask him a question and he’d give you a direct answer. If he wanted something done, he went and did it himself. If he needed help, he got some friends and got the job done. His banjo playing and fiddling reflected that approach to life. Of all the Round Peak musicians, he is the most economical—with minimal extra notes, but all the notes necessary.

Complete article in print edition. Subscribe now!

<<<Return to the 12-2 Index

The Old Time Herald PO Box 61679• Durham, NC • 27715-1679
Phone (919) 286-2041