Troy Brammer passes

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Troy Brammer

Banjo player Troy Brammer passed away on December 11, 2022, at the age of 90. 

Troy Shirley Brammer was born on July 24, 1932, and raised in Patrick County, Virginia, but settled and lived the rest of his years in Collinsville, Virginia, in neighboring Henry County.

He started playing music at a very early age, learning a lot from his grandmother and grandfather. He and his brother Joyce performed on banjo and fiddle together in their formative years at local contests and gatherings. 

Brammer was playing advanced melodic single string versions of songs and fiddle tunes on the 5-string banjo in the three-finger style at least as early as 1951, predating Don Reno’s use of this technique by at least five years.

At an event in Critz, Virginia, in the late 1940s, they met Lloyd Burge, a fellow musician with whom he started a band. Burge brought in his friend Marion Hall on guitar, and they called themselves The Brammer Brothers and the Virginia Partners. They played at schoolhouses, dances and many other events in the region.

Around this time, Troy met Don Reno, who was at that time working for Tommy Magness on WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. They played banjos together that night and sealed a friendship they would keep until Reno’s passing in 1984.

The Brammer Brothers’ recording of Virginia Waltz, which was written by Troy, featured twin fiddles played in harmony on record in 1949, predating Bill Monroe’s use of multiple fiddles by at least four years.

Brammer Brothers – Tell Me Truly Little Darling – 1949

The Virginia Partners soon landed a radio spot on WPAQ in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, where they reportedly brought in more fan mail than any other act had up to that time.

During this time, they attracted the attention of Wade Mainer, who showed up at one of their performances with his brother J.E. and asked them to go with him to Cincinnati to record for King Records, which they did minus Joyce Brammer who had just been drafted for service. Brammer played the banjo and fiddle on this session, as well as sang baritone in the trios.

His fiddle playing and baritone singing can be heard on Mainer’s November 1951 recording of That Star Belongs To Me, a song that was still receiving airplay on WSM on The Eddie Stubbs Show in recent years by personal request of Sonny Osborne, who particularly loved this version of the song.

That Star Belongs To Me

Around this same time, Mac Wiseman, who was also performing at WPAQ, asked Brammer to go with him to Nashville to record four sides for Dot Records, which he did. However, Wiseman was suffering with laryngitis during the session, and circa January 1952, he re-recorded the songs with Stringbean playing the banjo. To date, those tapes featuring Brammer have never surfaced. 

The Brammer Brothers continued their show on WPAQ until war intervened and Troy Brammer went to do service in Korea. Upon returning home, they resumed performing until Joyce Brammer’s untimely death in 1960. In their time together, they made two records, one for Mutual and one for Liberty, both of which were local labels with little distribution. 

Following Joyce’s passing, it was several years before Troy Brammer began to play again, but by the mid-1960s he could be found at most local fiddlers’ conventions and contests taking first prize in the banjo category nearly every time. So much so that upon arriving at a contest one time, someone remarked, “I wonder who’s gonna get second tonight?”

That said, Troy Brammer & The Virginia Partners were the second place band, with The Kessinger Band in fist spot, at the 1970 Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, VA. 

Over the years, he performed with fiddlers Willie Gregory (father of country artist Clinton Gregory), Burke Barbour, and Claude Lucas. He was also a member of Jake & Fennie (Willard) and the Hearts of Gold in the early 1970s with whom he recorded three albums for Dominion Records in Salem, VA, one of which was his own banjo album: Troy BrammerThe American Sound

From the 1970s-1990s, he also recorded albums with Burke Barbour, Willie and Clinton Gregory, Ronald Pinnix and the Green House River Band, and other local musicians. 

Bluegrass Western Swing Style [1975] – Burke Barbour & Troy Brammer 

In the early 1990s, he was delighted to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry with Willie and Clinton Gregory. 

Troy continued playing regularly – taking annual trips to the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree in Smithville, Tennessee, and to the Tennessee Homecoming in Norris – until during the last few years of his life when he stayed closer to home and traveled only to visit his family. 

Troy Brammer – Grandfather’s Clock, Galax 2015 

Jeremy Stephens, banjo player with High Fidelity, considers Brammer the most important person in his musical life …. 

“I first encountered Troy at about the age of eight at the Galax Fiddler’s Convention. I was walking out of the park with my mom and dad, and I heard someone playing Home Sweet Home in a way that was different from anything I had ever heard. We followed the sound to a camper with several people playing together and a man playing a bowtie RB-250 Gibson banjo pulling the strings above the nut with his fingers, simulating the sound created by cam tuners. I would learn later through my friend, Mark Hudson, that it was Troy Brammer.”

Troy Brammer – Home Sweet Home,Galax 2015

A couple years later, I started getting to know Troy, and he quickly became a mentor to me, always taking time with me to show me things on banjo and guitar, and never complaining when I would want to stay at his house past midnight to keep playing! I could talk for hours about Troy and his influence on me, but in short, Troy is the reason I play bowtie Gibson banjos, Gibson guitars, and a Vega Vox five-string. He is the reason that I learned the value of being able to play in any key without the aid of a capo at an early age. Many people think I got that from on Reno, but Troy taught me that! 

My style of rhythm guitar playing is rooted deeply in Troy’s rhythm guitar style, which I sought to emulate early on in my playing, and he is the guitar player on my first solo album, Scarlet Banjo, which is titled after one of the two tunes on the album that Troy wrote. 

He is largely responsible for my love of Don Reno’s music, and so much of how I play today on multiple instruments, I learned from Troy. Troy is a completely unsung early innovator in the three-finger banjo world, predating Don Reno with single string melodic stylings. 

He was always one of those people that, to me, was just always there, and it’s really hard to imagine that he’s gone, but I know that we will meet again. And I’m ever grateful for that assurance!

R.I.P., Troy Brammer

Funeral services will be held on Friday, December 16, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. at Woolwine United Methodist Church in Woolwine, Virginia.  

Burial will follow in the Woolwine Cemetery with military rites by the Patrick County Veterans Memorial Honor Guard.  

The family will receive friends two hours prior to the service at the church.  

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Woolwine United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 74, Woolwine, Virginia 24185.  

Online condolences may be sent at the funeral home online.

Bluegrass Today is indebted to Jeremy Stephens, without whose invaluable assistance this obituary would not have been possible.

A Discography 

Brammer Brother’s and The Virginia Partners

  • Fiddle and Bow / Don’t You Hear Those Nightingales Calling (Liberty 105, 1951)
  • Tell Me Truly Little Darling / Virginia Waltz (Mutual 211, 1951)

Troy Brammer

  • The American Sound (Dominion Records 31257, October 1973)

Burke Barbour & Troy Brammer

  • Bluegrass Western Swing Style (Dominion 35077-78, 1975)

Troy Brammer & Willie Gregory

  • Together Again (NQD 8275, 1992)

Wade Mainer

  • The Best Sacred Songs (Old Homestead OHCD-4021: ca. 1998)
  • I’m Not Looking Backward (Gusto-0957-CD, 2006)

Jake & Fennie and the Hearts of Gold

  • Have You Lost Your Way (Dominion Records 30817-18, 1973)
  • Golden Sounds Of Bluegrass (Dominion Records 30819-20, 1973)

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