Friday, June 12, 2009

Banjo player earns spot in Hall of Fame

Eric Ellis drove an asphalt truck for the N.C. Department of Transportation yesterday to help fix a road that had washouts from the heavy rains.

Today, he'll be down from his truck. He'll trade his work tools for a banjo and take center stage as he's inducted into the 2009 class of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in Wilkesboro.

"It's kind of hard to find the words (to describe how I feel) because of the company of the musicians," Ellis said. "I feel very humbled by it."

Ellis, who lives in Wilkes County's Mount Pleasant community, is being inducted in the category of sideman and regional musician. Other artists being inducted during tonight's concert and ceremony at the Walker Center are Ralph and Carter Stanley, Ola Belle Reed, Arthur Smith, Mike Seeger and The Primitive Quartet.

Ellis' cousin, David Johnson, was inducted into last year's inaugural class and will welcome Ellis into the Hall of Fame tonight. Johnson showed Ellis the finger roll patterns when Ellis was starting to learn banjo 35 years ago.

Other than that, Ellis learned from watching television and listening to records, developing a blistering bluegrass style he displays frequently at the Hometown Opry in North Wilkesboro. He's scheduled to play there today. The Hometown Opry starts at 7 a.m. Fridays at Main Street Music & Pawn (formerly Minton's Music and Pawn).

Ellis has a large regional following, and has also played with well-known artists Tony Rice, Bobby Hicks and Jimmy Gaudreau.

Banjo legend Earl Scruggs was also a great teacher for Ellis, who never played with him, but learned from his records. In 1996, when Scruggs was accepting an award in Raleigh, Scruggs wouldn't play because he claimed to be out of practice. The organizers had Ellis do the honors. "I had to stand there and play in front of him," Ellis said. "It was nerve wracking, but I wouldn't have taken a million dollars for it."

Now Ellis joins the company of Scruggs, who was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame last year. The Hall of Fame is in the Wilkes Heritage Museum.

Also performing tonight will be members of the family of the late Ola Belle Reed, a songwriter who was born in Ashe County's Grassy Creek community.

The ceremony will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit or call 336-838-6260.

Watch Eric Ellis perform a solo during a show with David Peterson, Mickey Boles and Ron Shuffler at the Lester Flatt Memorial Bluegrass Festival at LINK

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