Tim Stambaugh is the ever-present songster in our midst playing banjo, guitar, dobro and singing or recording with multitudes of local artists over his 35 years here.
Tim came down from the mountains at 21, lured by the promise of a European tour with locals Charles Peete, Jerry Brown and their Shady Grove band. He’s never left us – well, except for some stints in Japan, Germany, France and a few other outposts.
Almost anywhere there’s music happening in Orange County you can find Tim.
Sometimes he’s soloing like earlier this fall at the porch of Hillsborough’s Weaver Street Market where I heard him at a Sunday morning gig or at the annual Halloween festival at Spence’s Farm, just north of Chapel Hill or the Morgan Creek festival at the N.C. Botanical Garden picking his 1917 banjo, playing tunes almost that old. Other times he’s found with any number of local players and mostly now with his bluegrass (and then some) group The Guilty Pleasures. Sometimes he’s just there to listen like to the jazz of the Yeaux Katz.
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I can’t remember the first time I heard Tim play, but he’s kind of seeped into my consciousness and the more I listen to him, the more I like not only the music but the sly humor in songs like the reggae send-up “Pajammin’ – ordering children to brush their teeth and get to bed reggae style. Or the complete makeover of the Bill Monroe bluegrass classic “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as a dark slow ballad with wah-wah pedal guitar solo on his 2003 release “Half a Heart.” Doing the straight up melodious rendition of the Jesse Jones sausage jingle brought me an incredulous grin.
Jerry Brown of Rubber Room studios as well as the long-lived Shady Grove Band recalled Tim’s ability to produce a song on short notice. For their first recording together, the band, according to Jerry’s story, told Tim he had to contribute a song .
Once asked, he promptly went off and came back two hours later with “Shine On Me,” which became the title song for the album and inspired the cover photo. Jerry added, “Tim, having grown up in the mountains with that music just has a great feel for it and he’s funny, and a really talented musician.’
Stambaugh told me that as the youngest child of the family with six older sisters he grew up listening in the ’70s to so much Joni Mitchell that he couldn’t wait to get out of the house. He did steep himself in the bluegrass and old-time music traditions of the North Carolina mountains and he noted that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal “May the Circle Be Unbroken” probably launched him. As a young musician in Asheville he began going to the numerous folk festivals that bloomed in the ’70s and listened to Doc Watson, John Hartford and all those influential players. He honors that tradition today. His recordings and performance all reflect that heritage and style while making it his own.
Like any musician rooted in a place, he also continues to write his own stuff inspired by the goings on there. A few years ago the famous Station bar at the Carrboro railroad tracks was going through one of its many convulsions and closings followed by a renovation and new owners. It was discovered during the renovation that a hobo had made his encampment under the building and used the unnoticed old trap door to enter the building from below helping himself regularly to the bar’s stock. While the moocher was promptly removed, it resulted for Tim in the song “Hobo’s Paradise.”
Other tunes like his poignant and romantic “Lunchtime Lover” spring from the songwriter’s fertile imagination. While a bachelor himself, Tim makes a believer out of me with his melodic vision of a casual unexpected picnic-style encounter leading to true love, children and home. Though I’m not sure he or his lover would have ever really paired a pickle with a can of Mountain Dew – a bit of his mountain humor poking through.
The Wikipedia discourse on classic medieval troubadours enumerates 28 themes that were the topics of their poems or songs and I found some of those in the recent CD by Stambaugh’s Guilty Pleasures “Eastern Tennessee.” The dansa, a lively song with a refrain can be tied to the hard driving Steel Rails”; the desdana, a dance designed for sad occasions (the beautiful, moving fiddle tune by Dave Tweedie “Cristina and Warners Waltz”); a pastorela, expressing the love request by a knight to a shepherdess (the aforementioned “Lunchtime Lover”); and a Plazer, a poem expressing pleasure (the title track “Eastern Tennessee,” an elegy to childhood summers on the farm.)
Tim is conscious of his role here in his adopted community and takes every opportunity to participate. Last month he did sound for at Carrboro Music Festival for the youth stage and though he didn’t play he told me he’d had the pleasure of seeing the next generation of musicians coming along. While he often is seen solo, he prefers playing with others, as he said to me simply, “It’s more fun. We’re social creatures and we like to interact.” He also likes to mix it up as evidenced on his recordings and musical tastes that include everyone from Commander Cody to Norah Jones and lately a variety of Indian music. You can catch Tim and the Guilty Pleasures next at the upcoming Empty Bowls concert in Carrboro on Sunday, Oct. 16, at Weaver Street Market 3:30 to 7 p.m. benefitting hunger relief.
You can reach Blair Polock at email@example.com
Empty Bowls concert
Tim Stambaugh and the Guilty Pleasures will perform during the Empty Bowls concert for hunger relief on Sunday, Oct. 16, 3:30 to 7 p.m., at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. All proceeds will help TABLE provide emergency food aid to local hungry children. https://www.tablenc.org/empty-bowls