Edd Mayfield—The Mystery Man
Reprinted from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
August 1983, Volume 18, Number 2
In the short history of bluegrass music many individuals have passed through the few major bands. During the late ’40s and early’50s, bands sporting a contract with a major recording company or privileged with major radio and later TV exposure could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Many of these individuals received their schooling or paid their dues to break into music with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.
Monroe was the founding father of this new musical form. He was heard each week on the Grand Ole Opry so the Blue Grass Boys was a natural choice for aspiring musicians. After a short tenure these musicians would break out on their own and many are the established bluegrass bands of today.
Living on the road has never been easy. In the ’50s there were no interstate highways. Bands usually traveled in cars or station wagons loaded with all the gear, instruments, clothes, a PA set and all the band members. Needless to say, the life was hard and led to a constant turnover of musicians. But with this constant supply of new entertainers came a constant supply of energetic new ideas. Each new man coming into a group would bring new blood into a musical form that had been defined less than ten years before.
One individual who made lasting contributions to bluegrass music and unfortunately didn’t live to reap the harvest of his contributions was Edd Mayfield. In a recent conversation with Doug Green (a former Blue Grass Boy and now with Riders in the Sky) he called Edd “the Mystery Man.” Edd’s time was limited but in his three short terms with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys he managed to record twenty songs before being stricken with acute leukemia. His style of guitar playing and lead singing has been seldom—if ever—equaled.
Thomas Edward Mayfield was born April 12, 1926 on a ranch near Dawn, Texas, some 30 miles southwest of Amarillo. The Mayfields were a family who knew the meaning of the word work. They ranched 67 sections of grass (a section being 640 acres).
Neppie (short for Penelope) and W.F. Mayfield raised two girls and six boys, Libby Ruth, Mary Lorena, Ruben, Rufus, James, Herb, Arlie (Smokey) and Thomas Edward. From the time the kids were old enough to hold an instrument they had the opportunity and were encouraged to play music. Their mother played the guitar in a finger style and their father played the fiddle. The Mayfield home was a constant source of musical entertainment. The children learned a variety of break-downs, waltzes, hornpipes and other early country music.
Herb recalls, “I can remember Smokey sawing on Pa’s old fiddle. He was about five years old I think and was too small to hold the fiddle, so he would stand and prop it against the wall and his chest. To this day he holds the fiddle between his hand and elbow.”
Young Edd, or Thomas he was called until after high school, first learned to chord the mandolin. When he was large enough to reach the neck he moved to the guitar.
In the early ’30s the Mayfield family met a young musician named Arnold Geiger who was to leave a lasting impression on the family’s music. Arnold’s father was a depot agent for the Santa Fe Railroad and had just moved to Dawn when the Mayfield family met him. Herb remembers, “This boy was a musician, so we just invited him out to the house to play. He was around 20 years old and made some runs on the guitar that we hadn’t heard before. That was before we heard Monroe or anyone else.” From that time young Edd took the many runs he had learned from Geiger and expanded on them. Herb recalls, “We moved to Dimmitt, Texas in 1932 with nothing much happening except that the family got their first radio in 1934 and were fortunate enough to be able to get the Grand Ole Opry. We heard Bill and Charlie Monroe and later the Blue Grass Boys and were really excited over what we heard.”
When they moved to Dimmitt, the Mayfields moved onto a two and one-half section farm where they raised dry land wheat and ran about a hundred head of Black Angus cattle. During the summer the boys would spend time riding pastures, checking for sick cattle and mending fences. “You leave the ranch house on horseback before daylight,” Smokey recalls, “You’d ride all day and may not make it back to your camp by dark, so you’d ride to one of the line shacks, stay overnight then ride all the next day before you got back to your camp.” Winter time would find them hitching a team of mules, loading the wagon with cottonseed cake to feed the cattle.
The Mayfield boys, like all eager young musicians, practiced every free moment. Many times they would race to the house, dead tired from work in the fields, just to get a few extra minutes of playing music before a meal or before beginning the daily evening chores.
The boys were also active in high school sports. Edd was on the first team from Dimmitt to go to the Texas State Basketball Championship. As the boys graduated high school they were inducted into service.
Herb recalls, “During the second World War, four of us were inducted into the service. Two in the Pacific and two in Europe. All the way through the War, Edd carried his guitar. We all came through it OK, along with Edd’s guitar.”
Soon after he got out of service, Edd began dating a young lady, Jo Laverne McLain. “The first song Edd sang to me was ‘Footprints In The Snow,”’ Jody remembers, “Edd always said his favorite songs were ‘Footprints In The Snow’ and ‘Uncle Pen.’” Jody and Edd were married in 1948 and two years later became the parents of their first son, Freddy.
While in service, Edd met Bill Myrick from Monroe, Louisiana. He had booked some shows for Bill Monroe and was well acquainted with Horace Logan at the Louisiana Hayride. Bill Myrick asked the Mayfield Brothers to come down and he arranged an audition for the Saturday night show. They played two weekends on the Louisiana Hayride then made a deal with KSEL radio in Lubbock, Texas, where they would work a live show each week.
At this time the band consisted of Herb on the mandolin, Bill Myrick on the guitar, Smokey playing fiddle, and Edd on the other guitar. (There were very few if any five-string banjos in the area at this time.) They worked the KSEL Jamboree for about a year and during that time they first met Bill Monroe. Bill Myrick arranged to book the Mayfield Brothers on several double-header shows with Bill Monroe. Herb remembers the meeting, “We did the old song ‘Keep On The Firing Line’ on the show and Monroe came around after the show and said that was the best rendition of that song he’d ever heard. That gave us a lot of enthusiasm and that’s where we got acquainted with Monroe.” Not long after that meeting Edd contacted Monroe and inquired about a job.
Recently I asked Bill about Edd Mayfield and the first time they met. “I believe we were in Texas and him (Edd) and his two brothers Smokey and Herb came by and they talked with us some. I believe later on, that Edd, maybe had stayed in touch with me and come up here to Bean Blossom for a while. Birch was here and they had a group here. I can’t remember who was in the group but anyhow he hung on here till I needed him in the Blue Grass group. Then he moved to Nashville, he moved his wife and two boys and lived out on the farm where we live.”
Joe Drumwright remembers Edd’s audition, “I was with Bill when Edd tried out. Bill called me up to the hotel and said I have a fellow up here and I’d like to try him out. So I walked in and there stood that old boy with that big Texas hat, that big Martin and a thumbpick. I thought what kind of turkey is this, until, I played about two tunes with him. He was just great. You couldn’t get him out of time and he played some of the best backing notes you ever heard in your life.
Edd was way ahead of his time. There wasn’t anyone even close to him back then. He had big ole strong hands and could chord a guitar all day.”
Edd got the job and on October 28, 1951, he did his first recording session as a Blue Grass Boy. “The First Whipoor-will” and “Christmas Times A-Coming” have both become standards in bluegrass. Those who listen close to his voice on these recordings will note a difference in his voice compared to later recordings. This was due to Edd having a very bad cold that day. Gordon Terry was on that first session and remembers, “I was with Bill when Edd first came to work. He was a good boy. I think he was one of the best guitar players and lead singers that Bill had. He sure had a high voice, Bill couldn’t get them too high for him. He had a little different guitar style. Most guitar players before then had been kinda the same style but Edd was really a good guitar player for Bill’s type of stuff. And at that time coming from Texas was kind of unheard of for bluegrass.”
Edd worked until early 1952 then he returned to Texas. Herb says, “He worked on different cattle ranches around, but we still managed to make a few show dates as the Green Valley Boys. We managed to get a contract with 4 Star Records, but we were told they were not giving us enough so we passed it up, only to learn too late it was the same contract they signed with other bands.”
In early 1953 Edd returned to work with Monroe, this time he went to Bean Blossom to live. Jimmy Martin was playing guitar with the Blue Grass Boys. So Edd and his wife Jody and son Freddy moved to Bean Blossom where he was a part of the band that played each weekend.
In March, Edd and Jody became proud parents of another son. “Carl was born in March and the snow was deep,” Jody recalls, “Edd carried me home from the hospital in knee deep snow.” Not long after Carl was born Jimmy Martin left the Blue Grass Boys and Edd replaced him. In June of 1954 he again recorded with Monroe. “My Little Georgia Rose,” (a second version of the song for Decca) “Close By” and “Put My Little Shoes Away” were cut. Later that year in September he worked the session where “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was rerecorded. In the late autumn again he decided to go back to Texas. This time he worked for rodeo producer, Morris Stevens.
Stevens provided rodeo stock for all the major rodeos in the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico and Oklahoma area. Edd became a full-time rodeo hand and contestant. But the longing to play music was just too strong. In early 1958 he returned to Nashville. He recorded the gospel album “I Saw The Light” during February and March and in April 1958 recorded the two classic instrumentals “Scotland” and “Panhandle Country.” (The latter is played in C chord. Edd capoed down three frets and played the break in A to get a better tone.”
I asked several former Blue Grass Boys about Edd. “Edd was a very pleasant fellow and very much a man,” Kenny Baker responded. “He played a mighty strong guitar.”
“What I will always remember most about Edd is his quiet nature,” recalled Merle “Red” Taylor, “He was always a friend to everyone. Among other things he was a real Texas cowboy. He could ride and rope cattle with the best of them. I think Edd Mayfield stood just as high with Bill Monroe singing lead as any man who ever sung with him.”
James Monroe remembers, “I used to get Edd to pitch baseball with me. They would come in off the road dead tired, but Edd would always take time to play ball. He was a stout man too. He could climb a rope without using his feet. He was powerful.”
In a recent show at Bean Blossom I talked to Bill Monroe about Edd Mayfield.
“Well Edd was a good man and he was a good guitar man, a good singer.” I asked if he added to bluegrass. “Yes, Sir, he did. He played a great part in bluegrass when he came in there with me. He was wonderful in the quartet and our duets together. Yes, Sir, I thought a lot of Edd, he was great on that quartet album, ‘I Saw The Light.’ ”
I asked Bill if he’d had any guitar men who played the way Edd did. “No, Sir. He had his own style and was really good with it. Edd was a strong man, he helped me move a house there on the farm. He was really stout.”
“You know the old time way of digging postholes, he could really dig a post hole. He could ride a horse too and lasso any kind of cow or calf. One time they seen him go over the bank here on his horse—the horse was named Pal. He named that horse after, ‘Goodbye Old Pal.’ So they seen him go over the hill running that bull. So when they all went over that hill to see what went on, they didn’t know what happened. They went on down to where he was. The bull was laying down. Edd had throwed him and tied him and was standing up there by Pal. Pal was right there with him.”
Bill spoke of the last trip that Edd took: “We left Nashville one time from the farm. I could tell he was looking bad. He didn’t look good. We got up the road and I could tell there was something coming in on him. We went on into Pulaski, Virginia. We went to a hospital and they couldn’t take him in there someway, I don’t know why. We went on into Bluefield, [West Virginia] and I took him to see a doctor and they put him in the hospital there. So then they come back to me and told me he had about three days to live. I went to calling all his people, got his wife to come on up from Nashville. I stayed with him all the way.
“He’s a fellow who really loved watermelon and I asked him what he’d like to have that day and he said ‘some watermelon.’ So I went and got him some watermelon and brought it back to him. He went to eating some and liked it then I told him that watermelon was from Kentucky. You know we used to kid each other about Kentucky and Texas. I told him that watermelon was from Kentucky, he laughed and said, ‘That’s the best kind, ain’t it!’ When his wife and boys got there, he got to speak to his sons I think and told them, ‘You’re just going to have to let me rest.’ He focused his eyes up there on the wall in the corner and he just stayed right there. I’d say in fifteen or twenty minutes he was gone. I guess Edd really loved Texas. They buried him in Texas —Dimmitt, Texas.
“Edd was the kind of man who loved mother nature, that’s what I’ve always loved and he really loved mother nature. It’s a shame that he had to leave so young.”
Edd Mayfield passed away in July, 1958 at the age 32. Merle “Red” Taylor’s words say it all, “We lost a great friend in Edd Mayfield, but his life and music will remain in all our memories forever.”