David Holt’s State of Music

S5 E5 | FULL EPISODE

Lakota John and Tray Wellington

David visits with talented young musicians Tray Wellington and Lakota John Locklear. Tray Wellington is an African American banjo player who has won the IBMA Momentum Award; John Locklear is a member of the Lumbee tribe who excels at the blues.

AIRED: May 29, 2021 | 0:24:41
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TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat bluegrass music)

(lively banjo music)

- Now, if you've been following our show,

you might recognize Tray Wellington

from the Cane Mill Road band.

Six years ago, Tray started learning

the three-finger Scruggs-style banjo.

(upbeat bluegrass music)

Last year, the International Bluegrass Musicians Association

gave Tray Wellington the Momentum Award,

and he's just getting started.

Tray, it's great to have you here, buddy.

- Thank you for having me, David.

- How old are you now?

- I'm 21 years old now.

- Okay, well, you've done some great work.

How did you get interested in the banjo?

- When I was in middle school,

I was playing trombone in the band.

- This is where?

- At Ashe County Middle School,

and the trombone wasn't cutting it for me.

I didn't really like it, and so I wanted to,

you know, and my grandpa, when I was younger,

I'd hear a lotta country records,

and I always heard some great

electric guitar playing on those,

so I was like, "Well, I wanna do that."

And so I picked up electric guitar, and soon after that,

I was going through some of my grandpa's CDs

and found some Doc Watson CDs

and I was hearing some flat picking on those

and finger-picking stuff, and I was like,

"Oh, well, that's very, I love that."

And so I joined this club called the Mountain Music Club at-

- It was part of the school?

- Yes, Ashe County Middle School,

and it was my eighth grade year.

- Is that when you got the banjo?

- And that was the first time I heard banjo in person.

And I'd heard banjo on some of my grandpa's records,

on some of the country stuff,

and after that, it was just, I heard that banjo,

and I was like, "I wanna do that." (laughs)

- Cool! What did your friends say?

- My friends, they were, you know, I kinda got some crap

for it in middle school and high school,

just because, you know, somebody young playing banjo,

they're like, "Oh, that doesn't happen," and-

- But particularly an African American guy

playing banjo. - Yeah, I got a lot for that.

Yeah, that was, for some reason, people were weird about it.

And you know, from there, I just wanted to prove

I could do it just so-

- Yeah, that's really interesting because as you well know,

guys like me who have been into banjo a long time,

we love to see a young African-American guy

pick up the banjo because of course the banjo's from Africa.

- Yeah, yeah, I really tried to,

I really wanted to push the boundaries of banjo personally

and really kinda get outside of my comfort zone

on anything and learn as much as I can.

- And you've been writing a lotta banjo tunes.

- Yeah, I've been writing quite a bit.

One of 'em is "Gibbous Moon," and I wrote that,

I was listening to a bunch of David Grisman at the time,

and he did a lotta stuff in E flat.

And so I was learning a bunch of that E flat stuff,

and I was like how could I write a tune around that,

'cause it's such a pretty chord,

and "Gibbous Moon" is kinda the result.

(gentle bluegrass banjo music)

(gentle bluegrass music)

(bluegrass instrumental)

- You've been going to East Tennessee State University,

which has a program in traditional music.

- Yeah, that's- - That's bluegrass

and old time. - Yeah, bluegrass,

old-time, country, and Celtic, technically.

- Wow, and it's turning out a lot

of the professional musicians that go into bands these days.

- Yeah, they are. There's been tons go through there.

Barry Bales went through there.

I'm pretty sure Adam Steffey went there,

and Kenny Chesney was a part of the program.

- Really?

- You want a broad spectrum of different kinda skills

to get you to that professional point.

And when I first, when I applied to go there, you know,

I was playing a bunch of progressive bluegrass stuff,

and I felt like I was kinda losing my touch

with like my roots almost, of traditional bluegrass.

And I really wanted to get back in that,

playing a lot of that and really get-

- Yeah, well, you're making it very versatile.

- Yeah, I'm trying to, yeah, that's what my point is

'cause at first, I was not, you know,

when I first went in, I was, I just didn't have

that bluegrass drive anymore like I used to have,

and I really wanted to get that back.

- Who were some of your mentors

before you got to the ETSU program?

- Steve Lewis, he was a teacher

at the Mountain Music Club in my high school,

and I would get to see him almost every day, and for-

- He's a fabulous player.

- He is, he's amazing at banjo and guitar.

And he was one of the people that really sunk in for me

to really be yourself musically.

He said, I would sometimes be like,

"Oh, that obviously can't be played on banjo"

when I was first starting to learn,

and he was like, "Well, why not?"

And that really, that's something

that has set with me ever since.

I'm a senior now, and I get to play a lot with,

more with a lot of the instructors.

And one of those is Dan Boner,

and I'm actually taking vocal lessons from him right now,

so we're getting to spend a lotta time together musically.

(lively bluegrass music)

- What advice would you give to a young player?

- I would say don't let anybody tell you what to like,

'cause you know, you'll get a lotta that, you'll be like,

"Oh, yeah, it feels like this- - Because it's a,

it's kind of a closed circuit,

the bluegrass world and the old-time music world.

- A lotta people I've noticed are not very,

sometimes in music, are not very open-minded

to other musical styles, and I'd say you shouldn't

put somebody down because, you know,

they don't like that style of music.

You know, there's a place for all kinds

of music in bluegrass.

- I think what people often forget

is that it's changed from the early 1800s.

Now it constantly is changing.

- Yeah. - But there's a core,

a core of what- - Exactly.

- Traditional music is, and you know, you're following that.

- I think it's very important to learn from the people

before you, because I think that's how you grow as a player.

- That's right. - And then I think it's also,

I think it's also important to keep your ears open,

'cause there's people that are younger than even me,

and I'm pretty young and that are,

I get inspiration from just from listening to.

- Sure. - Like in writing

and lots of other things, so.

- Well, we'll look forward to all the great work

you're gonna do in the future, man.

- Thank you so much.

- [David] Lakota John Locklear is a blues

slide guitar player from the Lumbee

and Oglala Lakota Nations.

He grew up in Pembroke, North Carolina,

seat of the Lumbee tribe, and has been playing music

in his musical family since he was a child.

(bluesy guitar music)

♪ Yeah, I got the keys

♪ Yeah, to the highway

♪ I'm billed out and bound to go ♪

- Yeah!

♪ Yeah, I'm gonna leave here runnin' ♪

♪ 'Cause walkin's way too slow

♪ Well, I'm going back

♪ Yeah, to the border

♪ Honey, where I'm better known ♪

♪ Oh, 'cause you ain't done nothing, mama ♪

♪ But drove your good man away from home ♪

♪ I'm gone

(bluesy music)

Oh, yeah!

♪ Well, it's so long, so long, baby ♪

♪ Girl, I gotta say goodbye

♪ Yeah, I'm gonna roam this old highway ♪

♪ Until the day I die

- We're gonna take it on home, David.

(lively blues music)

All right!

Sweet!

- "Keys to the Highway."

Man, what a great one. - Way to make it sound great.

Yeah. - So had did a young man

like you, you're 23, how'd you get interested in the blues?

- Listening to my dad's music, man, '60s and '70s rock,

and I just had this curiosity,

like where did this stuff come from?

Who are these guys influenced by?

- Right. - Yeah.

- And you just started playing?

How old were you when you started?

- About eight years old.

- Wow! - Or nine years old, man, so.

- Oh, that's great.

I notice you get, you're left-handed.

- I am a lefty.

- So you must've had this guitar made,

this slide guitar. - I did, yeah!

Yeah, Fritz Guitars out of Summerfield, North Carolina.

- Yeah, he's great.

- Yeah, man, it's beautiful, beautiful stuff.

So I'm blessed to have this. This is Buffy.

- Tell us about your heritage. How does it all work?

So I'm Native American, and on my mom's side,

her family's from South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation.

And on my dad's side, he's Lumbee,

so he's from the Pembroke/Robeson County area.

- And where do you live now?

- I live down in Robeson County.

- You have a very musical family, I understand.

Tell us about that.

- So I grew up playing music, and music was always

in the household, and my parents bought my sister

a guitar and a violin.

And so when I started touring and playing music,

we got introduced to Music Maker,

and they said, "Well, John, we can't fly.

Everybody's gotta be playing here.

We can't send everybody on a plane,

and you're just the only one playing."

So everybody decided to pick up an instrument, so.

- (laughs) How many people was that?

- Right, it was us four, so my dad,

my mom, my sister, and myself.

So my mom's on washboard.

My dad's on vocals and harmonica and guitar.

I'm on guitar and vocals, and my sister's on violin,

so, and vocals, so. - How great.

You still doing that?

- Not as a family anymore, so that was-

- But that was kind of the way you grew up,

doing that? - Oh, absolutely, yeah,

but it was always in our family, so.

- And what kind of music did you play as a family?

- It was early roots music, man, you know, so,

but I was influenced by a lotta jazz

and blues and early stuff, so.

- That is great.

- Yeah. - Glad you did.

- Yeah, me too. (laughs)

- I know you had some of the same mentors I've had,

actually, John Dee Holeman.

- Yeah, yeah. - Who are some

of the other people you talk about?

- A guy named Boo Hanks and-

- Oh, yeah.

- Captain Luke, you know, some of those guys.

One of my mentors now, his name is Mark Andersen, so.

- Man, you're lucky to, at this point,

that those guys were still alive.

- Absolutely, yeah, yeah.

- Good for you, and you even wrote a song about that.

- [John] Yeah.

- "Music Man"?

Tell us about that. - It's called "Music Man."

Yeah, it's a song that a mentor and my,

a mentor of mine wrote together, so, but here it is.

- Yeah, please.

(bluesy guitar music)

♪ I'm a music man

♪ I sing my song out loud where I can ♪

♪ When there's a song in my heart ♪

♪ Right from the start

(lively blues music)

♪ That rhythm, it just grabs me ♪

♪ Way down deep inside me

♪ I'm a music man

♪ My heart is singin' all across this land ♪

♪ I think I always had a guitar in my hand ♪

♪ Here to take my stand

♪ 'Cause I'm a music man

(lively blues music)

- Yeah, man!

(lively blues music continues)

- [David] Yeah!

♪ Oh, I'm a music man

♪ I sing my song out loud where I can ♪

♪ When there's a song in my heart ♪

♪ Right from the start

♪ That rhythm, it just grabs me way down deep inside me ♪

♪ I'm a music man

♪ My heart is singin' all across this land ♪

♪ I think I always had a guitar in my hand ♪

♪ Here to take my stand

♪ 'Cause I'm a music man

- (laughs) That is great, man.

- Yeah, man. - That is great.

- Yeah, it's a great tune, so.

- So where do you see yourself in, I don't know,

five to 10 years, or what do you hope will happen?

- I hope that I can share my music, man, and my art

with whomever would love to listen,

and I hope that I can continue

and do what I truly love, and-

- Do you think that there'll be an audience out there?

- For, I think there'll be an audience

for all kinds of music, you know?

- And for traditional?

- And for traditional, more than likely.

I mean, I don't, I think it's up to us

to keep it alive, you know?

- Yeah, it has to be played.

- Yeah, it does. - It has to be played

to be alive, and you're doing a great job of playing it.

- Thanks, man.

- Let's have one more.

What you got? - This one's called

"Down the Road."

- It's one you wrote?

- Yeah, this is an original tune, man.

(calm guitar music)

Two, three, four.

(lively blues music)

♪ I'm gonna keep on rockin'

♪ Just rockin' down the road

♪ I'm gonna keep on rollin'

♪ Rollin' with no load

♪ My heart is free now

♪ This old world can't hold my soul ♪

♪ Well, I just left RobCo

♪ Nothing more will keep me down ♪

♪ I'm gonna roll forever

♪ And my feet won't touch the ground ♪

♪ Yeah, I'm headed upward

♪ Where no troubles can be found ♪

Oh, let's jam, man.

(lively blues music)

Ah!

♪ Those folks in heaven

♪ They'll be rockin' with me, too ♪

♪ All those before me

♪ Will be singin' like they do

♪ And all my friends there

♪ Will be jammin' on some blues ♪

♪ Oh, well, I'm gonna keep on rockin' ♪

♪ Just rockin' down the road, yes, I am ♪

♪ I'm gonna keep on rollin'

♪ Rollin' with no load

♪ My heart is free now

♪ This old world can't hold my soul, hmm ♪

- Yeah. - All right!

- Thank you.

- Yeah, man, thank you for having me.

(whistles whines)

(text boings)

(electricity buzzes)

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