Ed Teague, perhaps Georgia’s last old-time two-finger banjo picker, died in his home outside Lavonia, Georgia, on January 19, after a long struggle with cancer. He had a lovely sparse index and thumb up-pickng style that always found the right notes up and down the banjo neck for ballads, breakdowns, and gospel and country songs. He was also a fine singer and guitar player, but usually stuck to banjo when playing over the years with local groups such as the Crazy Mountain Boys, the Georgia Mountain Boys, the Myers Family and Friends, and finally, Ed Teague and Friends. “Friends” was the key word, as Ed was kind, generous, and sociable: he and his wife Hazel would take the time to spend hours with visitors from France or England, banjo enthusiasts from the University of Georgia, as well as with musician friends from down the road. Ed was a truck driver during his working years and never aspired to be a full-time musician. He did perform at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and over the years met and earned the respect of well-known musicians like Bill Monroe, the Lewis Family, Wade Mainer, Snuffy Jenkins, and Red Rector. In his youth Ed got to hear his wife Hazel’s great-aunt, Eva Davis, who, with Samantha Bumgarner, was one of the first rural musicians to make commercial recordings in the early 1920s.
Ed was born on May 28, 1927, on a farm and orchard on Black’s Creek in Rabun County, Georgia. His main musical influences were his grandparents, Oscar and Jeanette Gibson. Oscar Gibson played banjo, fiddle, and organ, and had a fine repertoire of old-time mountain songs and ballads, as did Jeanette. Ed learned his first banjo licks from his grandfather when he was five or six years old, but never got the “double-noting” in the two-finger style that his grandfather played. In his youth Ed played with his brother and his grandparents at neighborhood square dances. The Gibsons were musical friends of multi-instrumentalist Bert Myers, father of the Myers Sisters, who had a fine family group in their later years; Ed joined Helen Myers McDuffie, the last surviving sister, to perform at local events until a few years ago. Ed’s last musical project was a CD with his old friend, guitarist Lawton Dyer, fiddler Roy Tench, and autoharp and Dobro player Clint Ledford.
How to sum up the life of Ed Teague? A devoted husband and father, a wise and loyal friend, a World War II veteran (he guarded German prisoners at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, playing music with his fellow GIs when off duty); and, especially, a man devoted to the honesty of unadorned old-time mountain music.