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Bluegrass Music and the Sourwood Mountain Band

Updated on August 11, 2013
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.

Raymond Bragg on Bass Clowns it Up

Practically in My BackYard

I am fortunate to have an award-winning bluegrass band practically in my backyard. Sourwood Mountain Bluegrass Band has its roots firmly planted not in the mountains so much, but in Central North Carolina. I get to hear them play locally, where they do some gigs between their travel-off events. Recently I enjoyed one of those great, foot-tapping times when they played a two-hour concert in downtown Franklinton, North Carolina, their home base.

The music of Sourwood Mountain Bluegrass Band takes me back to when my daddy played guitar and sang old country, western and bluegrass songs to me at bedtime. I drifted off to sleep many a night to those same tunes the band played last Saturday night.

Sourwood Mountain Bluegrass Band has been entertaining folks with bluegrass and gospel music since 1996. Gary Bray, Tommy Carter, and Raymond Bragg have been with the band since the beginning. Donnie Barham and Carl Norgaard joined the group in 2007. Gary Bray plays guitar and sings lead vocals, Tommy Carter also paly guitar and sings tenor vocals, Carl Norgaard plays the mandolin, Donnie Barham plays the banjo and Raymond Bragg plays the bass.

Sourwood at PreddyFest 2012

Carl Norgaard

A relative newcomer, Carl Norgaard, who auditioned for the band in 2007, says he jumped at the chance to join Sourwood Mountain Band.


“I had been with another Bluegrass group, but that group was breaking up. Prior to that I had been out of formal music groups for about thirty years. I was pretty regular in a local Wednesday night Bluegrass jam, and I made two or three festivals each year as a campground jammer, but I had not been part of a real band since 1972.”


The band in 1972 played Classic Rock from the 60s. Going back even further, Carl started out as a trumpet player in the fourth grade, moved onto baritone in junior high and played the tuba in high school band.


Carl talked about the importance of those school music programs in his life. He says, “The school band experience was priceless for me on many levels, particularly in developing the ability to work up the harmony voices so important to singing groups but also understanding that good music, like most things in life, is the result of dedicated work to bring its many parts together.”


Carl worries that with today's budget crunch school systems might be too quick cut music programs in favor of other things. He states, “Music is a "basic" that people really can carry through life, and kids need to be told that and encouraged to participate.”

Sourwood Mountain Bluegrass Band

Performing in Franklinton, NC. left to right: Donnie, Raymond, Tommy, Gary, Carl
Performing in Franklinton, NC. left to right: Donnie, Raymond, Tommy, Gary, Carl

An Answered Dream

Donnie Barham attributes his membership in the band to divine intervention. Donnie grew up in a family with bluegrass connections. But it was a friend named Eddie Massey whom he credits with his love of the music and for teaching him to play the banjo. Eddie was taking lessons from Donnie’s uncle. Donnie didn’t have a banjo, but Eddie shared both his knowledge and his banjo with him. They were just fourteen years old when one day they skipped school together. That is when the lessons and the friendship started. Eddie would learn something new and teach it to Donnie. They took turns playing the one banjo for several months. On Donnie’s fifteenth birthday he got his first banjo, having proved to his parents he was serious about playing. Donnie and his friend played music for the next several years.

A man named Willie Creekmore gave Donnie his first chance to play in public with his band in Pilot, North Carolina. They played at churches, rest homes and at his music barn in Pilot. Mr. Creekmore died in June 2004 and the music stopped - for a while. The band later picked back up and started playing again. In 2007 a turning point came when Donnie met Gary and Raymond with the Sourwood Mountain Band at Paul’s Place in Wake Forest, North Carolina. The band was missing a banjo player, heard Donnie play, and asked him to fill in. Before leaving that night Raymond offered Donnie the chance to try out for a job playing with Sourwood.

“I admit I was not up to speed with them on my playing ability,” Donnie says. “I was struggling so hard to make it work. I worried each time I showed up that I wasn’t good enough.”

Apparently those worries were unfounded. Donnie remembers the exact date and time he got the call – September 11, 2007 at 8:11 AM. Donnie says that call was an answered prayer and dream come true. “You don’t forget things like that,” he said.

Sadness hit again in 2007 when Donnie’s childhood buddy and banjo teacher died. Donnie says he thinks of Eddie every time he picks up his banjo and plays.

“I hope to play for many more years,” says thirty-one year old Donnie, “ and hope to live to play on to my next dream.”

Things seem to be shaping up pretty well for the band. They recently took a second place win at the 2009 Got to Be NC Festival’s bluegrass band competition. WSVS-AM 800 Saturday High Noon Hoedown Show has featured their live performances several times, and they are scheduled for another spot on the show October 17, 2009. Sourwood also released a new CD this year, Still on Track.

Still on Track

order from Sourwood's Website
order from Sourwood's Website

For more Information

Visit the Sourwood Mountain Band’s website to see where they are performing next, and to buy their CD. You can also keep up with the band at and on Facebook at For booking information or to buy their CDs contact Gary Bray at 919-494-5211 or

Playing at The Philling Station, Franklinton, NC 5/21/10


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    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Won second at the Got to Be NC Bluegrass contest!!!

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

      if you missed them last night at The Philling Station that's just sad.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

      going to hear them play tonight at The Philling Station in Franklinton, NC!

    • pacwriter profile image

      pacwriter 8 years ago from North Carolina

      Great Article Donna

    • JDove-Miller profile image

      JDove-Miller 8 years ago from YOUNGSVILLE

      Love the article including the pictures. Gave great insights into the band members.