Marc Pruett grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This Southern Appalachian Region has long been a hot-bed for traditional arts and folk music. When Marc was first learning to play mountain string-band music, artists like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Jimmy Martin regularly played the area to well attended audiences. These and other great mountain folk artists were the ones to which Marc Pruett listened and tried to emulate.
“The day I got the 45 (rpm) of Flatt and Scruggs playing “Mama Don’t Allow,” I spent 5 and 1/2 hours on the banjo breaks until I had them down pretty close! That little climbing 7th run that Earl did in the second break covered me up!”
In high school, Marc Pruett played his 5-string banjo at many programs of the day…talent contests, fiddlers conventions, churches, street dances and the like. When he was 15 years old, he accepted an invitation to play his first professional job. It was at Ghost Town in Maggie Valley, NC in the late 1960’s that Marc tenured for three summer seasons with the staff band at the Red Barn Playhouse that was headed up by the legendary Pan-Handle Pete (James Howard Nash) of the “one-man-band” fame.
“Pete was a master showman! I learned so much from studying his stage work…like how to pace a show and match presentation and material to an audience in ways that make entertainment happen effectively.”
Marc Pruett “picked” his way through college at Western Carolina University, and while earning a B.S. Degree in Geology, he had a chance to work for a season with James Monroe, son of Grand Ole Opry star, Bill Monroe.
“I played on some fun programs with James….got to meet a lot of people. I remember it was at Ralph Stanley’s in McClure, Virginia in 1973 that I had the chance to visit with Ricky Skaggs and get to be buddies with him. That next year (1974), we went to Silver Springs, Maryland, and I helped Ricky record his first album called That’s It.”
In June of 1973, Marc Pruett had a great break into “bluegrass” music. “Well….we went to Bill’s (Monroe) festival at Bean Blossom, Indiana, and MCA Records had it set up to record a live album that weekend. It was kind of Bill’s answer to Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Lester Flatt was on it…Jimmy Martin…Jim and Jesse…Carl Jackson…a lot of folks. I got to record there on James Monroe’s segment and in the final festival segment with all the great fiddle players like Paul Warren, Kenny Baker, and Big Joe Green. James introduced me on the record when I played TRAIN 45…a lot of people heard that because the album did so well for Bill.” BEAN BLOSSOM was released in CD form and is still a classic bluegrass recording.
After graduating from WCU, Marc and his brother, Matt, opened a music store in Asheville, NC that was associated with Pick ‘n’ Grin of Knoxville, TN. During his ~12 year stay in the retail business, Marc Pruett taught hundreds of folks to play the banjo. He also helped promote many local shows and still kept a lively presence on the bluegrass music scene. He continued to work some with artists like Jimmy Martin, the Whites, the Kingsmen, Billy Edd Wheeler and Ricky Skaggs.
“The first time I played on the Grand Ole Opry was with Jimmy Martin. It was an honor to perform with a man so knowledgeable in bluegrass music. He had done so much for the music I love, and he had a way of bringing out the best in banjo players like JD Crowe and Bill Emerson. To learn from him and to play songs he had in the Country Music Hall of Fame was really fun! The first time I played at Lincoln Center in New York was with Jimmy Martin.
When I worked with The Whites, they were a bluegrass act and fantastic to work with…I did quite a few programs with Buck and the girls. They are lifelong friends and solid class, and I am so proud of the success they’ve had as a featured group in the hit movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
I really enjoyed recording and performing some with the great gospel group, The Kingsmen. The neatest date I played with them was a TV show in Knoxville when Squire Parsons was with them. That show was hosted by the great comedian Archie Campbell of Hee Haw and Grand Ole Opry fame.
Also, I’ve been able to write and record with Billy Edd Wheeler. What a creative guy! One of the songs I co-wrote with him was used on a National Geographic Society project called SONGS OF CUMBERLAND GAP-THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DANIEL BOONE. He and I have been working on several songs since late 2009. Billy Edd is a genius! Now you know what “genius” is don’t you…it’s perpetual audacity!”
Through his association with Pick ‘n’ Grin of Knoxville, Tennessee, Marc Pruett took his local band to Europe in 1976 as part of a cultural exchange tour in that American bi-centennial year. The band consisted of Earl Cowart, Boyd Dills, Sam Parker, Boyce Reeve (Corky) McCorkle, Tut Taylor and Marc. This trip was a predecessor to the North Carolina international folk festival Folkmoot. Dr. Clinton Border of Waynesville, NC was instrumental in organizing this cultural exchange, and the tour included a widely acclaimed mountain clogging group, The Carolina Cloggers directed by legendary dancer, Red Ivester.
“We played in front of old castles, on town squares, in schools….and right before we were set to come back to the states, Tut Taylor stuffed his resonator guitar with Polish sausage to bring back . We kidded him about his guitar sounding “full”!
For five years, from September 1974 to September 1979, Marc Pruett played on every show the “Southern Lawmen” had booked. This was the official corporate band of the old Southern Railway that performed for many public relations events, operations meetings and railroad-endorsed programs (public and private). During his tenure with the Lawmen, Marc performed for and became friends with a lot of folks from railroad company presidents such as D. W. Brosnan, Harry DeButz, W. Graham Claytor, and Harold Hall as well as executives to CEO’s of companies like ATT and Remington Arms. Marc played on TV in Kentucky and traveled to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia performing with The Southern Lawmen. With the railroad band, Marc Pruett made many lasting professional friendships and learned much of the entertainment needs for corporate clients at facilities like Brosnan Forest in St. George, SC.
“I was honored when I was chosen to replace the legendary entertainer George Pegram in the railroad group. He had been with them so long and was such a great performer. After Mr. Pegram died in 1974, Captain J.R. Perkins contacted me. We talked…picked…and struck up a friendship, and I joined the band. I really enjoyed working with “the Lawmen” and being associated with the railroad.”
In 2000-2002, I had the chance to do a lot of performances with the new version of THE LAWMEN. We were in Kansas City for the National Sheriff’s Association…in Salt Lake City for the national meeting of OPERATION LIFESAVER…and in Pennsylvania for The Make A Wish Foundation. I played with the group in Atlanta for a national meeting of State Highway Patrol Agencies. It has truly been wonderful to rekindle old friendships at meetings like the Norfolk-Southern Board of Directors meetings, the Georgia-Pacific Board of Directors meeting, the Brosnan Forest programs and at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.
In October 1979, a newly formed MARC PRUETT BAND began a nine-year “stint” as the house band at Bill Stanley’s BBQ and Bluegrass Restaurant in Asheville, N.C. The band included legendary bassist, Randy Davis (the man Bill Monroe introduced as, “Randy Davis from Asheville, North Carolina…a man with perfect timing,” stunning mandolin player, Mike Hunter, widely noted fiddler, Arvil Freeman and guitar and banjo whiz, Steve Sutton. Bill Stanley’s historic facility could accommodate 400 folks and served up some dandy BBQ, bluegrass music and Southern mountain clog dancing in its time. At Bill Stanley’s, Marc used every opportunity to hone his skills in performance, and through those years, he further developed his playing ability and song writing. Hundreds of thousands of people were entertained and fed through Bill Stanley’s business, and the Marc Pruett Band was at the entertainment helm! The list of influential and well-known folks entertained by the Marc Pruett Band at Bill Stanley’s include Lewis Grizzard…Ben Wright…Frank Whittaker…Tim Conway…Pat Sumerall…Dinah Shore…Yogi Berra…Al Gore…Douglas Kiker (NBC)…Gail E. Hailey (Caldicott Award Winner)…President Jimmy Carter………the list seems endless! About the time he left Bill Stanley’s, Marc and his wife, Anita started their family. Anita is a talented musician in her own right, but she left a vacancy as banjo player with Whitewater Bluegrass Company. Marc helped out in this capacity through the 1990’s, and he enjoyed the many programs he helped present with his pickin’ buddies Ted White and Bill Byerly in Whitewater Bluegrass Company.
In 1995, Marc’s old friend, Ricky Skaggs called needing a banjo player for a MARTHA WHITE BLUEGRASS NIGHT AT THE RYMAN. After the show that night, Ricky asked Marc to help out on some more of his bluegrass dates, and this led to a 2 1/2 year association with Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder. On weekends and time off from work, Marc traveled and played with Skaggs’ group from British Columbia to Maine….from the Grand Ole Opry to California. Of his involvement with the Ricky Skaggs organization, Marc says, “It was truly a musician’s dream. I feel like I had the chance to learn so much…and to play some of the best music in my life! It was wonderful to be able to perform at that level and get a chance to record with that band. Since BLUEGRASS RULES received the GRAMMY from the American Association of Recording Arts and Sciences, I have been deeply touched by the many congratulations I’ve had for my contribution to that project. From my heart, I say a sincere thank you to all the folks who enjoyed that album!”
Through 1998 and 1999, Marc Pruett performed a lot with Rock Springs Reunion. This was a bluegrass gospel group that played regional Christian programs. One of the songs Marc co-wrote with his brother, Matt, went to the number 7 spot on the BLUEGRASS NOW chart in the summer of 1999 (JOHN SAW ME).
Marc Pruett has been described by Nashville Network producers as “having the hands of Earl Scruggs and the heart of Lester Flatt!” Marc Pruett plays the banjo with power and an intuitive feel! It has been said that “the reward for scholarship, persistence, determination, practice and passion is the priceless quality of ease….ours only when we know we know!” It is on this commanding level that Marc Pruett strives to present the 5-string, bluegrass banjo. His cumulative years of experience in entertainment support a well-paced and tight-laced program, and the reverence he has for music tradition is well balanced in his current programs by his appreciation for and presentation of the new music of Balsam Range.
Marc Pruett has performed literally thousands of shows with mountain cloggers. Marc says “When we performed at THE SHOWBOAT in Las Vegas, I took my high school buddy, Skip Parker, with us to clog. On the show card, I had the promoter bill him as the world’s greatest buck dancer! Old Skip glued taps to a pair of running shoes and had people dancin’ in the aisles! I love good cloggin’….and that was one time we really had it!”
Marc has long admired the sincerity, the honest approach, and the humor of the M.C. style of the late Lester Flatt. “He (Flatt) always seemed so believable…so approachable…that’s something I never quit working toward.” On banjo playing, Marc says “…the first time I heard Earl Scruggs, I heard a completeness I’ve never heard equaled anywhere. To me, it was and still stands as the total thing that banjo pickin’ should be! Humbly I say….every time I pick my banjo up….in my own way, I try to breathe a little breath of that wonderful feeling that “he” had into my own playing.” For his lifetime efforts to further the banjo, for his talents, and for his dedication to “bluegrass” music, Marc Pruett was honored by being featured in the definitive book on banjo players…MASTERS OF THE FIVE STRING BANJO written by Tony Trishka and Peter Wernick.
Marc Pruett is a native Southern Mountain performer with a list of credentials a mile long and a day’s walk wide! His enthusiasm and solid stage presence coupled with his “power-pickin’” and interaction with an audience help deliver a fresh, appealing mountain performance. Marc says, “I’ve had some neat things happen to me. One was when Ricky Skaggs introduced me at the Ryman Auditorium as AMERICA’S BANJO PLAYER! Another one was when my wife, Anita, and I performed at the College Of West Virginia with the legendary Bluegrass musician, Everett Lilly who played for years with his brother Bea as The Lilly Brothers. I’ve studied Everett Lilly’s great mandolin playing and tenor singing all my life…especially the classic recordings he made with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in the fifties. That night backstage, we rehearsed a while, and I thought it went pretty well. After we finished one of the tunes, Everett Lilly gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. In that quiet spot at the end of the song…while the instruments were still ringing…and everyone in the room was still intently listening…Everett Lilly looked over at me and said…”THAT’S THE WAY A BANJO SHOULD BE PLAYED!”
Marc Pruett has appeared on many nationally released albums, and he has appeared on a large volume of regional releases. His music was (for over a dozen years) used as the square dance theme for Unto These Hills…the outdoor drama about the removal of the Cherokee Indians from North Carolina. Marc has contributed to the documentation of cultural resources in Western North Carolina. He worked with his friends Ted White and Susan Armstrong in the mid-2000’s to obtain a grant from the state of North Carolina to produce (in association with Haywood Community College) a folk life documentary called Spirit of the Mountains, the Stories of Uncle Albert Burnette. This film was presented for a statewide preview at Haywood Community College in 2004 during the college’s 40th anniversary festival knows as “Mountain Echoes.” As part of his interest in promoting and preserving mountain music and the heritage arts, Marc Pruett has recorded and produced dozens of album projects for many mountain performers.
On banjos, Marc says, “I currently use three different banjos. I still play the old ‘parts’ banjo I used on Bluegrass Rules with Ricky Skaggs, and I have really enjoyed playing one of the new Sullivan banjos made by the Sullivan family of First Quality Music Supply in Louisville, Kentucky. Also, my friend, the late Scott Sheridan willed me his Tennessee Crafters banjo, and Warren Yates has really spiced it up with his ‘banjo magic.’ My friends know that I love ‘the old five’ with all my heart, and I am looking forward to a great stretch with Balsam Range!”