Contest winner Corbin Hayslett appears with Keb’Mo, Dolly Parton, and more on Orthophonic Joy.

I once heard that there was a fine line between playing old time and not being able to play at all.

I won’t tell that to Corbin Hayslett, though.

Last summer, the now 21 year old Hayslett, a Virginia native and recent graduate of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, was chosen from a myriad of entries to record a song on Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited, which released on May 12th.

After winning the contest with a rendition of “Darlin Cora,” which was (no lie!!) recorded in the living room of my grandmother’s house, Hayslett headed to Nashville to record the tune with famed producer Carl Jackson. He now appears with such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Keb ‘Mo, and Brad Paisley on the two disc set that commemorates the original Ralph Peer recording sessions that took place in Bristol in 1927, sessions that many people consider to be the big bang of country music.

Hayslett’s inclusion in the project is no fluke. Hand him an instrument with strings and, most likely, he can play it. Hayslett also has a mastery of the banjo that far exceeds what one would expect from someone in his early twenties.

And now, the full disclosure – Corbin Hayslett is a friend of mine. He lives in my grandmother’s house and has played music in a band with my son. I consider him a friend. I am also a fan. Of all the blog posts I have written, there have been few that have brought me as much joy to write. Considering the title of project in which Corbin is now featured, that is only appropriate.

I recently chatted with Corbin about banjos, old time music, and getting involved with Orthophonic Joy.

BRO – Describe the moment you found out you had won the Orthophonic Joy contest.

CH – I was sitting at Mountain Empire Community College eating lunch on the next to last day of Mountain Music School, where I was teaching banjo. I had no idea that I would win the contest, but folks at Mountain Music School knew that I had and set up a bit of a hoodwink on me. When Leah Ross, director of the Birthplace of Country Music, took the stage and announced that I was the winner, I was in utter shock. I was dumbfounded and just kind of sat in my chair in a stupor as the crowd cheered before I headed up to the stage.

BRO – What does it mean for a young musician like yourself to be involved in this project?

CH – For me to be involved in such a project is an honor that I have difficulty comprehending. With this project, my name has been placed among the ranks of musicians, artists, and producers who combined have centuries of experience and thousands of hits. It is an honor I am still trying to put into perspective. Being on this project also opens up new worlds of of people with whom I can share this music.

BRO – Of the four songs from which you could choose, why “Darlin’ Cora”?

CH – I heard “Darlin’ Cora” for the first time on a Mike Seeger album called Southern Banjo Sounds. The song, with its constant drone and locomotive drive, immediately captured me and made me want to learn it. I had played the song in shows for years in different styles – sometimes solo like Seeger, sometimes in a fiddle and banjo duet with Jumpin’ Jim Robertson in The Hogwallow Mudstompers, and as a mash up with “I Know You Rider” with Mis’ry Creek. The song is adaptable, and for the competition I wanted to mimic the style that B.F. Shelton used in 1927, but also give it a wee kick in the pants.

BRO – Considering you are just 21 years old, you have been playing banjo for a long time. How does a young guy get into music that is so old?

CH – I grew up with music a constant part of my life. My mother is a wonderful singer, pianist, and organist, and has led music in churches since I was a child. I was always listening to music and singing with her. She also taught piano lessons out of our home. My father is a great singer, and he and I would sing together often, mostly old time and vintage bluegrass. I would spend hours reading, playing, and drawing, all the while listening to old time and bluegrass that my dad had bootlegged off the radio back in the eighties. The music was always part of my life. I suppose I just grew up with it in my blood.

BRO – Know any good banjo jokes?

CH – Sure. Want to hear some good banjo music?

Corbin Hayslett will be heading to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, this fall to continue his academic career with a graduate degree in Appalachian studies. He’ll also be out on the road with his banjo, keeping alive the musical heritage of the Appalachians.

For a taste of Corbin’s banjo wizardry, take a listen to this recent performance of “Darlin’ Cora.”

Also, many thanks to AJ at Music City Roots for letting me use the great pic of Corbin up above!