Eddie Adcock was born at home in Scottsville, Virginia, a tiny, historic town located twenty miles south of Charlottesville, on June 21, 1938. Eddie, who is primarily known for his banjo playing, was first exposed to the instrument when his brother Bill brought instruments into the family home, including a tenor banjo. However, it was the guitar and mandolin that Eddie favored when he first began to learn to play music. Music, he says, gave him a chance to get off the farm where he was “throwing hay bales five bales high on the downhill side of a wagon. Playing banjo is easier than that.”
Eddie left home at age fourteen. From age fifteen to twenty-two, he boxed semi-professionally. During this period he joined Smokey Graves, a quasi-bluegrass entertainer who toured the eastern seaboard and was on the radio in a number of cities, including Crewe, Virginia. Eddie noted, “I played mandolin and guitar and a little bit of tenor banjo. Smokey Graves had been a fiddler player for Clyde Moody, and started the Blue Star Boys. When he said he needed a five-string banjo player, I sold my calf and bought a Gibson RB-100 banjo. I said I could be there in probably two or three weeks. In that time, I had to learn to play the five-string banjo. I had no idea they used a three-finger roll!” (quoted by Marty Godbey in Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe, University of Illinois Press, 2011.)
The road looms large in a musician’s life, and the freeway system was in its infancy when Eddie started his career. He recalls traveling U.S. Highway 40 when it was too narrow for two vehicles to pass, the average speed was 35 miles per hour, and roadside services were scarce. “It took six hours to get to the next food stop, even back East. Hotels were just in cities. There were a few bed and breakfast places, but you could go 200 miles without seeing one. There was a lot of sleeping in the car. Thank God for Vienna sausages. They kept us going.”
Following his tenure in the Blue Star Boys, Eddie worked in a succession of different groups, starting with Mac Wiseman in about 1956 (he was recommended for that job by Don Reno). His next stop was in the Rocky Mountain Boys, headed by Bill Harrell, on WARL radio in Arlington, Virginia. Eddie’s stay lasted until the early part of 1957, when Bill was drafted and the group broke up. Eddie then played with various groups, including the Stonemans, and won numerous music contests.
Eddie next found musical employment with Buzz Busby and the Bayou Boys, another group from the Washington, D.C. area. Busby was known for his wildly erratic mandolin playing and achingly poignant high-pitched vocals. The group was on an upward trajectory when Buzz and several other band members – including Eddie – were involved in a serious automobile accident on July 4, 1957. While Adcock spent several weeks in the hospital, uninjured fellow band member Bill Emerson contacted Charlie Waller and John Duffey and organized a band to fill in for the recovering Bayou Boys. Soon they were calling themselves the Country Gentlemen.
Following the crash, Eddie opted for less glamorous but safer work as a custodian in a high school in Annandale, Virginia. His detour from music was short-lived. Bill Monroe came calling, looking for a banjo player. “I was with Bill for about six months, at a time when he wasn’t drawing flies. That’s not to say anything bad about him, because all of bluegrass music was rough then. We worked some places that didn’t even have floors. Sometimes, I went two or three days without food. I helped Bill on his farm also. We would work six to eight hours during a day, and then we would go do a show that night.”
A bus trip from Nashville took Eddie back to Virginia where he landed a job as a sheet-metal mechanic. Again, his intention to get away from full-time music was sidelined when the Country Gentlemen lured Eddie into the group in the early spring of 1959. With that band he gained his greatest fame. Along with Charlie Waller, John Duffey, and Tom Gray, he was a member of what has come to be known as the “Classic” Country Gentlemen, who took their brand of bluegrass music all the way to Carnegie Hall. Adcock stayed with the band for twelve years, adding his memorable baritone vocals, improvisational banjo work, and a keen knack for selecting and arranging great material.
Eddie appeared on numerous LP and single recordings with the Country Gentlemen, cutting for such labels as Starday, Folkways, Mercury, Design, Rebel, and Rome. Eddie’s first “solo” outing came in 1968 when he and Don Reno teamed up for an album on Rebel called Sensational Twin Banjos.
By the early part of 1970, Eddie was ready for a change. He headed to the West Coast for a brief flirtation with country rock. He played electric guitar and performed under the stage name of Clinton Codack. Back East, he assembled a progressive bluegrass outfit with Jimmy Gaudreau, Bob White, and Wendy Thatcher called II Generation. The group and its subsequent configurations recorded for Rome, Starday, Rebel and CMH.
Eddie gained his longest-lasting partner when Martha Hearon joined II Generation in 1973. The couple married in 1976 and have been together ever since. They shared a high profile gig in 1984-1985 when they toured with “outlaw country” musician David Allan Coe. During this time, Eddie played a lot of electric lead guitar and he and Martha were the main backup singers. Eddie noted that a three-hour Coe show was apt to include an hour of bluegrass.
Various recording projects marked milestones and changes in Eddie’s career. CMH albums from the couple included an instrumental outing called Guitar Echoes and a release called Love Games. 1989 brought Eddie back together with Charlie Waller, John Duffey and Tom Gray for an album on Sugar Hill called Classic Country Gents Reunion, which garnered IBMA’s Recorded Event of the Year. Also in 1990, Eddie teamed with Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, Jesse McReynolds, Martha Adcock, and Missy Raines to record for CMH Records and occasionally appear as The Masters. Their self-titled CD release was a Grammy finalist and was awarded Instrumental Album of the Year at the 1990 IBMA Awards Show.
Eddie and Martha signed with Pinecastle Records from 1996-2003 and released three recordings. In 2008, he teamed up with ex-Country Gentlemen Jimmy Gaudreau and Tom Gray as well as Randy Waller, son of the late Charlie Waller, to record an album for the Adcocks’ RadioTherapy Records as the Country Gentlemen Reunion Band. Eddie, Martha, and Tom Gray recorded a Country Gentlemen retrospective on the Patuxent label called Many a Mile in 2011.
In 2008 a right-hand tremor that had begun threatening Eddie’s ability to continue to play banjo and guitar was alleviated by an operation performed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. The procedure placed electrodes in Eddie’s brain that allowed him to regain full use of his picking abilities. He had to remain awake, with banjo in hand, while surgeons worked to correct the problem. Several follow-up surgeries were required to fine-tune the procedure. The operations were a success and Eddie and Martha remain vibrant performers on the bluegrass and acoustic music scene, continuing to write, record, produce, instruct, appear on radio and television, and tour the USA, Canada, Europe and Japan. Martha is currently working to finish a book on Eddie’s life and times.
– Gabrielle Gray, Gary Reid, & Martha Adcock.