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Snuffy Jenkins

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  • Born: Harris, NC
  • Years Active: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Bluegrass banjo pioneer DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins was born in Harris, NC, on October 27, 1908; the youngest of ten children, all of whom excelled in music, he began playing the fiddle as a child but was too small to use the bow and as a result picked the instrument like a mandolin. He later turned to guitar and by 1927 was playing in a trio with banjo players Smith Hammett and Rex Brooks; Jenkins copied their three-finger style, and in the years to follow the banjo became his primary instrument, honing his skills playing square dances throughout the western North Carolina region. At this time he began mentoring the young Earl Scruggs; while Jenkins' technique bridged the gap between jagged, old-timey picking and the more fluid contemporary style, Scruggs soon surpassed his teacher, forging a thoroughly modernized sound distinguished by its subtlety and grace.

Jenkins relocated to Columbia, SC, in the spring of 1937, soon joining a string band which performed on local radio station WIS; despite the inevitable lineup changes, the group -- later dubbed the Hired Hands -- remained active for over half a century. Joining in 1939 was Jenkins' longtime foil, fiddler Homer "Pappy" Sherrill, a onetime member of the Blue Sky Boys; eight years later the Hired Hands welcomed lead guitarist Julian "Greasy" Medlin and bassist Ira Dimmery, followed in 1955 by the arrival of second guitarist Bill Rey. This five-piece lineup cut the first Hired Hands recordings in 1962, released by Folklyric in 1970 and subsequently reissued on Arhoolie as Pioneer of the Bluegrass Banjo. In 1971, Jenkins and Sherrill also recorded an LP for Rounder and in 1989 also cut material for Old Homestead; Jenkins died on April 30, 1990.