Kevin Howard, Banjo Player and Music Teacher; Whitesburg. Kentucky:
“I guess I’m a banjo player, mostly. I teach banjo and play banjo. I actually just got a record deal with June Appal records so I’ll be having a debut album out this fall. The title is, Crossing The Line. I’m 32 now, and I started (playing the banjo) sometime in my early twenties, I can’t remember the exact year.
I had a roommate whose fiancé at the time had a banjo, so I just started picking it up when I’d see it around, and it kind of came naturally, so I thought, maybe I should get into this.
Spent years in my room just sounding wild, not really knowing any songs, but knowing some licks and that. Then I eventually met an old feller named George Gibson, and my buddy John Haywood and they kind of straightened me out a little bit and gave me some direction. I don’t have any formal training. Don’t believe in it (although) I do make a living giving formal training. If I could be honest with most students, I’d tell them to learn the basics, and then sit in your room and be alone with it.
My great-grandpa was a banjo player, and all of my granny’s brothers are musicians. But as far as us younger members of the family, I’m about the only one (musician). I guess it skipped two generations, or so.
Mountain music is honest. If you want to get down o the roots of American music period, you gotta go back to old-timey and mountain music and just the fact that it’s based on tradition. This is an oral tradition that’s been passed down so long that we don’t even really know who wrote most of these songs, but we know that they are our people and we’re going to keep on doing it.
It’s a great format for telling a story. There are countless old ballads, and most of them don’t end to happy. They say if the song is over, and the girl’s still alive, it probably wasn’t an old-time tune.
Trying to be a musician in the mountains isn’t very easy. If I didn’t have a lot of support from my family, and the ways that I am making a living didn’t exist back then. A bunch of us mountain musicians have created a way for us to make a living. I’d say falling in line with that, and trying to make this place a healthy place for artists to live.
I think if you really get right down to it, you can look at us (Appalachians) and maybe people down in Mississippi and the Cajun country, are some of the only people who have really held on to their culture. It’s seems like everything’s gotten real plastic. You hear about Americanization, but it seems like people are just raised by their TVs. Around here, there’s still some real stuff you can latch on to.
I think that (the stereotyping) goes right back to the people who believe everything they see on TV. I believe the negative stereotypes have just been exacerbated beyond belief, and you’d have to come here to see that ain’t really the case. It seems like every other day we get some reporter or somebody coming in here and they’re not trying to interview people who are actually doing stuff in the community and trying to be positive. For lack of a better word, it’s poverty porn. They just want to come in here and show the poorest of the poor, and have the rest of America perceive that we’re all on welfare.
I believe no matter where life and the world take me, this is home base. Right here in Whitesburg. Home means familiarity…family, comfortable surroundings. A lot of people will consider their house their home, but I think this whole county is my home. I feel like a space alien everywhere else.“