Closer Look

Local music icon Ronnie Evans still playing strong

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Dave Stewart

Often when there is a festival in Franklin and in the region, Ronnie Evans can be heard playing his guitar. In fact, Evans has enriched this area with his solo guitar arrangements for many years.

Born in Macon County, and a 1960 graduate of Franklin High School, Evans began playing guitar at age 12 and in public in his early 20s. He played lead guitar in a band with other area natives – Donnie Clay on drums, Bob Keener on rhythm guitar, and Hugh Dowdle on bass guitar.

The band was called The Kinfolks and a highlight was that they won a 1964 talent show and appeared on the “Arthur Smith” television show, Station WBT-TV in Charlotte.

Evans described why he gravitated toward an interest in music. 

“I was motivated by the music programs I heard on our battery-powered radio (before the days of television),” relayed Evans. “My mother apparently noticed my early interest in music and bought me a cheap acoustic guitar from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

“Once I had learned some basics of playing – playing by ear – she got me a Sears electric solid-body guitar; but no amplifier. I built my first amplifier when I was 13 out of the family’s discarded 78 RPM record player. It was a one-tube amp, five-inch speaker and no more than five watts output, if that much, but at least I could hear myself play.”

Evans was inspired by musician Chet Atkins, who he considers his “all-time guitar hero.”

“His fingerstyle playing inspired my fingerstyle playing,” he explained. “I got to meet him at a Chet Atkins convention in Nashville. I have a 1994 photo of me sitting on a couch with Chet while he signed a Gibson guitar promotion brochure that featured him with the Chet Atkins guitars that the company was offering at that time.”

RONNIE EVANS spoke to people about his music CDs and his books at a Nov. 4 Franklin Chamber of Commerce Book Fair.

While music has been his passion, it also led him to his career.

“After the television experience (on the Arthur Smith show), we had several opportunities to record songs at Franklin radio station WFSC,” said Evans. “I spent spare time at the station and one day they called and offered me a job, which I accepted. I had always been interested in the technical side of radio and the announcer position at the station helped develop performing skills. It was mostly on-the-job training in those early days, but later – after being drafted in the U.S. Army in 1965 during the Vietnam War – I received formal technical training as a radio repairman. After the Army, I returned to WFSC as an announcer and news reporter. I also received more formal electronic training.”

Evans did not chase a dream as a full-time musician, but continued to stretch his skills as a guitarist as he sought in 1981 what he referred to as a “cherished FCC First Class Radio & Telephone license.”

“This was followed by a job with UNC-TV engineering, eventually in charge of the maintenance of 24 television translators in the Western North Carolina mountains. I retired from UNC-TV in 2004, but continued as a radio engineer for a few area radio stations as well as performing and recording guitar music,” said Evans.

While he has formerly retired from a career in the broadcasting industry, he shared that he will never stop playing music. He plays fingerstyle guitar in many musical genres at country clubs and restaurants, and for special events. Although he owns a number of guitars, his favorite is a nylon string Cabaret guitar made by local luthier John Buscarino.

To enable people to access his music when he is not performing live, he set up a small recording studio in his home and has produced 15 albums – nine of which are still available for sale. He learned the recording process working through CEC Recording Studio in Franklin in 1975.

“This was a professional eight-channel analog studio producing master tapes for replicating vinyl records and eight-track tape cartridges,” said Evans.

On his latest album, “Cabaret Guitar,” Evans exclusively plays the locally made instrument. At North Carolina Mountain Made on Main Street, Evans’s CDs can be heard as background music in the shop.

Plus, annually, Evans performs and provides his Christmas Guitar CDs, as well as other recorded music, at the Hard Candy Christmas Arts and Crafts Show at the Ramsey Center at Western Carolina University during Thanksgiving weekend, Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Yet, as much as music has been a mainstay in Evans’s life, his creativity extends beyond playing music. At the Nov. 4 Franklin Chamber of Commerce Book Fair, he showcased not only his numerous CDs, but also his four books. Evans is the author of two historical fiction works and two are historical nonfiction books: “The Odyssey of Robert Peak,” “Panther Bill Peek,” “Frankie – A Life Cut Short,” and “Swift Justice.” He is currently at work writing a fifth book manuscript.

“Expressing myself through music and writing seems to come from a desire for creative accomplishment,” concluded Evans.

Dave Stewart is a local musician and long-time fan of Ronnie Evans. Stewart plays guitar in three bands: Blue Jazz, Mountain Muse Trio, and Generations, which is a band that includes his two daughters, Michelle and Rachel Stewart. He is also a solo musician known as Ridgetop Dave.