West Texas Remembers “Banjo” Billy Faier

Legendary Folk Musician Billy Faier died early Saturday morning. He lived in Marathon in West Texas and played the five-string banjo. He played with some of the giants of the post-war folk music scene and made many recordings.

The life of “Banjo Billy” – Billy Faier of Marathon – reads like the history of the folk music revival. In the 1940s he lived in Woodstock, New York, and then in the city near Washington Square Park. He traveled with Woody Guthrie and Rambling Jack Elliot, hung out with Pete Seeger, Odetta, John Fahey, and a young Bob Dylan. He lived in Greenwich Village and hitch-hiked to San Francisco, where he hosted a folk music show on one of the first public radio stations. He was living in New Orleans, when Rambling Jack wrote this about him in the song “912 Greens”:

While we were down there, we had the name of a fellow to look up, Billy Faier, a 5-string banjo picker.

He liked the open spaces of West Texas and worried about over-population, as Rambling Jack said on a visit here: “It seemed like every place is getting swarmed-over by humans and that may not be a good thing for the planet.”

Faier found a tribe of local musicians, who would just sit around a fire and play songs. He played with Wendy Lynn Wright of Casa Piedra, Paul Graybeal of Marfa, and appeared in the Dry Creek Diggers with Drew Stuart, who said, “Singing with other people was really a social experience for him and something that made him feel connected.”

 J.P. Schwartz is another West Texas musician who would jam with Faier. “I often ran into him at the farmers’ markets and would accompany him on harmonica or guitar.”

In his last years, he would sit at Farmstand Marfa on a lawn chair, with a patch over his bad eye.

“He was a bit of a curmudgeon,” said Drew Stuart. “But the thing about it was once he got to playing and singing, I think he was delivered from the things that bound him up and carried him into a more joyous space.”

“Great Assembly” is one of Faier’s best-known songs: “…When we meet at that banquet table, what a feast we will prepare…”

About Tom Michael

KRTS/KXWT News Director
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