roots feed passion for bluegrass
By Lee Graves
simple values of country life run rich in the veins of Gayle Noble.
by Lee Graves
Maupin, (left) Gayle Noble and Vernon Maupin practicing some
of the bluegrass numbers they perform in their band, Willow
can hear them when she talks about growing up on the Fluvanna
County farm her family has owned since the 1830s. And you can
hear it when she belts out bluegrass harmonies with Willow Branch.
a big part of bluegrass for me, the family and the land and church
and home. Thats what I connect with, she said. Its
easy for me to sing about losing 32 Acres of Bottom Land.
is as much a part of Nobles nature as her farming roots.
In addition to playing bass and singing with Willow Branch, a
five-piece group that has developed a strong following over two
decades, Noble performs with her three siblings as The Griffin
been singing and playing music ever since I was a kid, said
Noble, administrative assistant in the Office
of University Architect Samuel Pete Anderson.
My mother tried to give us a sense of the classics by insisting
we take piano lessons, which I continued for five years.
Noble played clarinet in the Fork Union Elementary School band
and, at various times, has played the saxophone, harmonica, guitar,
banjo and, most recently, her great-uncles fiddle.
and two-steps dominated her youth, but when the family attended
a festival in Berryville, those styles took a back seat to bluegrass.
remember that the Osborne Brothers were playing Rocky Top.
Thats what set me off on bluegrass, and Ive been hooked
month, Willow Branch will take the stage in Scottsville for
the annual Fourth of July celebration.
musical abilities have taken her from places as diverse as the
Grand Ole Oprys Ryman Auditorium (with Willow Branch) to
the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria (with The Griffin Sisters).
The latter, where a sequence of The Sound of Music
was filmed, was one of several performances on a trip sponsored
by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
of the time, Noble plays closer to home.
month, Willow Branch will take the stage in Scottsville for the
annual Fourth of July celebration.
current lineup includes her husband, Robert, on banjo; Sue Maupin,
lead singer, and husband Vernon Maupin, guitar and vocals; and
Doug McDonald, mandolin and guitar.
group has won 33 honors from the Virginia Folk Music Association,
including best bluegrass band in 1990 and 1997.
bands material ranges from pop covers to more traditional
tunes. At a benefit for the Persimmon Tree Players in April, the
group had the crowd bouncing with a toe-tapping version of the
Beatles Ive Just Seen a Face.
they have been focusing more on originals and putting together
a CD compilation of songs off Knee Deep in Grass,
Many a Mile and other previous recordings.
of Nobles favorite stories is how her banjo-picking led
to marriage. When she was a teen-ager and he was about 7, Robert
saw her play at a church revival.
He said he went home that night and told his dad that he
wanted to learn to play the banjo like that girl at church,
paths took different routes, but Robert stuck with the instrument.
Many years later, he was in town from Jacksonville, Fla., where
he had just gotten out of the Navy. A mutual friend invited him
and Gayle to a band rehearsal.
came in to practice and never went back to Florida, she
said with a smile.
Theyve been married 19 years, and she still insists, He
wasnt smitten with me. It was the banjo.