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About The Artist
Shannon Grayson, quality mandolin and banjo player, had a 46-year musical career that essentially divided into three parts. In early adulthood he worked for several years as a Carlisle Brothers band member usually playing mandolin while working on radio in the Carolinas, West Virginia and East Tennessee. Then he joined the WBT Briarhoppers working some years with them. In between his times with the legendary Charlotte group, Shannon led his own band known as the Golden Valley Boys recording four numbers for King and twelve for RCA Victor.
For a number of years, he worked as a skilled cabinet maker. In 1973, approaching retirement, he returned to the Briarhoppers for another eighteen years. As Alzheimers began to take its toll, Grayson retired again in 1991.
A native of a little community in North Carolina known as Golden Valley, Grayson grew up in what might be termed an idyllic area in which music played a significant part in their lives. His entry into music as a profession started by playing mandolin on a tour with western performer Art Mix, who incorrectly claimed to be a brother of western superstar Tom Mix (Art's real name was George Washington Kesterson).
Following that, he joined Bill Carlisle's Kentucky Boys, doing his first record session with them on June 18, 1936. From then through 1940, he did several sessions on Decca and Bluebird during which time Bill and brother Cliff combined forces to become the Carlisle Brothers. Shannon also did the only session that younger brothers Milton and Marion recorded in August 1937. He later worked again with Cliff and Bill at WNOX Knoxville.
Meanwhile back at WBT Charlotte, the Briarhoppers were attaining sufficient popularity that they needed a second unit to satisfy demands for their personals. So Grayson hooked up with them for roughly a three-year stretch before returning to work with the Carlisles again.
In early 1946, Shannon and the Briarhoppers (which then included Arval Hogan, Roy Grant, Elmer Warren and Shannon Grayson) did a joint concert with the Charlotte Symnphony Orchestra. A reporter termed the concert a "mixture of corn and culture." Lamar Stringfield was the Composer-Conductor of the orchestra. The theme for the night was the "Legend of John Henry." Freck Sproles wrote, "The Briarhoppers, dignified as native folk singers on the programs, took hold and told the story of the steel-drives in the hills and set it solid with a nasal twang."
As for the symphony, Sproles wrote, "The Syumphony orchestra took a bit longer to tell the tale. The instruments did the talking in fourteen minutes flat, however, Stringfield doesn't hold with longer numbers. He figures listeners lose interest after fifteen minutes of anything. The John Henry ballad, symphony style, was reminiscent of Gershwin. It loses none of the swing of the original folk tune and offers much more."
The reporter then reveals how the audience reacted. Sproles wrote, "The longhairs, who criticized the composer for indulging himself in this hillbilly symphony, tapped their feet, clapped their hands and grinned sheepishly. ... The Briarhopper fans, in the minority and a mite puzzled, were quiet. They were the only ones in the audience in formal rig."
The attire of the performers was also noted. The Briarhoppers wore business suits but left their boots and cowboy hats at home. Guy Hutchins, the conductor, was dressed in white tie and tails. The orchestra were dressed in tuxedos and black evening dresses.
The event occurred at the 'barn-like and inadequate' Armory-Auditorium. The venue only saw about half of its 2,500 seating capacity occupied.
With Cliff retiring and Bill headed for Nashville, Shannon Grayson formed his Golden Valley Boys consisting of essentially Dewey Price, Millard Pressley (mandolin), Harvey Rabon (bass), and himself. They recorded four sacred numbers for King on May 3, 1950. Billboard reported that the Golden Valley Boys in 1951 consisted of Harvey Rabon (bass), E. C. Beatty (guitar), Millard Pressley (mandolin), Howard White (steel guitar) and Shannon on banjo.
The next year, they signed with RCA Victor and did two sessions totaling eight songs of which their best-known number was "If You Don't Love Your Neighbor" that became a standard for Carl Story and more recently Rhonda Vincent. After the Golden Valley Boys disintegrated, Grayson worked briefly with the Briarhoppers, but then left music for twenty years to work as a cabinet maker specializing in making bank fixtures.
In 1973, Grayson returned to music with the rejuvenated Briarhoppers made up of Whitey and Hogan, Don White, Hank Warren, and himself. He mostly played banjo with them specializing in a tune called "Interstate Rag" and recording with them on Lamon and Old Homestead.
Shannon married his wife, Ruby Sherrill, on September 24, 1939 in York, SC. They had three daughters.
He retired in 1991 and passed away in May of 1993.
Credits & Sources