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Pete Steele

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  • Years Active: 1930s, 1950s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

The outlines of Pete Steele's life are sketchy, at best. A Kentucky banjo player, he is know to have spent nearly 20 years working in the Harlan County coal mines. Somewhere along the line he developed a unique two- and three-finger picking style on the banjo, as illustrated by the field recordings he did for Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in the 1930s, shortly before he moved to Hamilton, OH, where he began to make his living as a carpenter. He recorded an album called Banjo Tunes & Songs for Folkways Records in 1958. A large influence on the banjo style of Pete Seeger, Steele is perhaps best remembered for two pieces, "Coal Creek March" and "Last Payday at Coal Creek," that he reportedly learned from an older player named Andy Whitaker, who in turn, so the story goes, learned them in the Tennessee coal fields in the 1890s.