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Roscoe Holcomb

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Roscoe Holcomb
Roscoe Holcomb in 1962
Roscoe Holcomb in 1962
Background information
Birth nameRoscoe Halcomb
Born(1912-09-05)September 5, 1912
OriginDaisy, Kentucky, United States
DiedFebruary 1, 1981(1981-02-01) (aged 68)
Occupation(s)Miner, construction worker, farmer, musician
Instrument(s)Banjo, guitar, harmonica
Years active1958–1978

Roscoe Holcomb (born Roscoe Halcomb;[1] September 5, 1912 – February 1, 1981) was an American singer, banjo player, and guitarist from Daisy, Kentucky. A prominent figure in Appalachian folk music,[2] Holcomb was the inspiration for the term "high, lonesome sound", coined by folklorist and friend John Cohen. The "high lonesome sound" term is now used to describe bluegrass singing, although Holcomb was not, strictly speaking, a bluegrass performer.

Performance style[edit]

Holcomb's repertoire included old-time music, hymns, traditional music and blues ballads. In addition to playing the banjo and guitar, he was a competent harmonica and fiddle player, and sang many of his most memorable songs a cappella. Holcomb stated: "Up till then the blues were only inside me; Blind Lemon was the first to 'let out' the blues."[3]

Holcomb sang in a nasal style informed by the Old Regular Baptist vocal tradition. Bob Dylan, a fan of Holcomb, described his singing as possessing "an untamed sense of control".[4] He was also admired by the Stanley Brothers and Eric Clapton, who cited Holcomb as his favorite country musician.[4]

Life and career[edit]

A coal miner, construction laborer and farmer for much of his life,[5] Holcomb was not recorded until 1958, after which his career as a professional musician was bolstered by the folk revival in the 1960s. Holcomb gave his last live performance in 1978. Due to what he described as injuries he sustained during his long career as a laborer, Holcomb was eventually unable to work for more than short periods, and his later income came primarily from his music. Suffering from asthma and emphysema as a result of working in coal mines, he died in a nursing home in 1981, at the age of 68.[6]

Holcomb is buried at the Arch Halcomb Cemetery in Leatherwood, Kentucky. His tombstone bears his given name of Halcomb rather than Holcomb.[7]


Holcomb's discography includes the following albums released on LP during his lifetime:[8]

  • The Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward, Folkways Records, 1962
  • The High Lonesome Sound, Folkways Records, 1965
  • Close to Home, Folkways Records, 1975

The following single-artist compilations have been released since his death:[8]

  • The High Lonesome Sound, Smithsonian Folkways, 1998
  • An Untamed Sense of Control, Smithsonian Folkways, 2003

Holcomb's work appears on many multiple-artist compilations, including the following released during his lifetime:


  1. ^ Matthews, Scott L. (July 27, 2008). "John Cohen in Eastern Kentucky: Documentary Expression and the Image of Roscoe Halcomb During the Folk Revival". Southern Spaces. 2008. doi:10.18737/M74W3W.
  2. ^ Stephen Petrus; Ronald D. Cohen (8 June 2015). Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival. Oxford University Press. pp. 183–. ISBN 978-0-19-023103-3.
  3. ^ Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  4. ^ a b An Untamed Sense of Control at AllMusic
  5. ^ Charles K. Wolfe (5 February 2015). Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 154–. ISBN 978-0-8131-4960-8.
  6. ^ John Cohen (2012). The High & Lonesome Sound: The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb. Steidl. ISBN 978-3-86930-254-6.
  7. ^ "Roscoe Halcomb (1911-1981)". Findagrave.com.
  8. ^ a b Roscoe Holcomb discography at Discogs Edit this at Wikidata
  9. ^ Mountain Music of Kentucky at Discogs (list of releases)
  10. ^ FOTM – Friends of Old Time Music at Discogs (list of releases)
  11. ^ Zabriskie Point (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) at Discogs (list of releases)
  12. ^ 3rd Annual Brandywine Mountain Music Convention – '76 Music of Kentucky at Discogs

External links[edit]