Interviewing Richard Hefner, by Spencer Beery

May 10, 2013 |

Spencer Beery

Spencer Beery, a talented musician who plays multiple instruments, is in Birch Graves’ 6th grade class at Greenbrier Episcopal School in Lewisburg. Spencer and his mother drove up US 219 to Renick where Spencer interviewed a local bluegrass legend, Richard Hefner. In addition to interviewing Richard, Spencer put together this great video for his social studies project:

Spencer: The banjo makes a rather odd sound when I listen to it, a lot like a “boing”; though throughout the entire piece it seems festive. I sit in a chair in Richard Hefner’s house, listening to him play bluegrass music. One thing is extremely important here in West Virginia, the music. The man Richard Hefner is a perfect example of a West Virginian musician.

Richard was born and raised on Route 219 in Millpoint, Pocahontas County. His mother’s side of the family had the greatest number of musicians.

As a child, Richard learned to play the four-string banjo in a five-string banjo style. His teacher was his uncle, Glen Irvine also known as “Uncle Dude”. Richard’s uncle was born with “water on the brain”. This made his head big. He was crippled after he contracted polio at age five. He was confined to a wheelchair. Despite this Dude learned to play several instruments. He began playing harmonica at age five and then he learned fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, and he could play some on the piano. He was a great musician and people loved playing music with him. Sometimes when some of his musician friends came into town, they would come, and literally carry Uncle Dude off to the bar to play music.

His family members initially influenced Richard. Uncle Dude, Richard’s brother, his cousin Harley Carpenter, and Harley’s dad, would come over to Richard’s house and play music, while Richard just listened. Also people would come over, just to play with Uncle Dude.

Bluegrass is Richards’s favorite genre of music. Although he enjoyed, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, though his main influences were Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, and Lester Flatt. The last three artists were all part of the “Blue Grass Boys Band” which was started by Monroe. At that time, their type of music was called “Hillbilly Music”. The name of this band eventually was used to describe the genre now known as Bluegrass.

Bluegrass music started to form between the 30’s and mid 40’s, and was later named during the 50’s. It is an American country music that originated in Appalachia. It drew its influence from the European settlers, which included the Scots, Irish, and English. Bluegrass was also influenced by African- American music. The typical instruments in bluegrass include fiddle, banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and guitar.

A defining feature is the Scruggs style three-finger picking. Bluegrass has one or more instruments that play melody, while the accompanying instruments improvise around the melody. Ralph Stanley adapted the Scruggs style of picking. Stanley’s style is the style Richard uses.

Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, had more than a love for bluegrass music in common with Richard Hefner. He, too, had a “crippled” uncle with whom he lived. According to Monroe, his uncle Pendleton Vendiver “was the fellow that I learned to play from”.

Richard has played with his band, The Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys since 1968. The band got its name from the mountain that could be seen from Richard’s house in Millpoint. Like Monroe’s Kentucky blue grass and Richard’s West Virginia Black Mountain, both band names pay tribute to Appalachia. Richard has played music with many musicians. He has had the privilege of jamming with two of bluegrass music’s earliest artists, Ralph Stanley and Lester Flatt. Although the members of Richard’s band have changed through the years, the band’s connection to its roots remains intact.

And that’s how bluegrass music and musicians such as Richard helps make this place, this place.

If you’re eager to hear more on Richard Hefner, you can also check out the Traveling 219 story on the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys here!

Spencer Beery is a 6th grader at Greenbrier Episcopal School. He enjoys music, playing and listening to it. He plays many instruments, such as piano, guitar, drums, trombone, recorder, and ukulele. He as well has been playing soccer for 2 years. He was born on April 19, 2001 and is currently 12 years old. His favorite subjects are math and writing. They’re his favorite subjects because he’s very good at math, and he has an endless imagination that can be turned into interesting stories.


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