Dr. Thomas Rhudy Bryan, Jr. (Doc) was synonymous with love for all other human beings far beyond himself. He was also never present in any one place for very long, before the sounds of music could be heard around him. He was always drawn to music, especially the pure sounds of old Country Music, Bluegrass, Folk and Americana styles of music. He owned every kind of music reproducing device including an old megaphone record player with the cylinders, old 33 record players, 8 track tape players, MP3 players as well as CD and DVD players. In the car, camping, horseback riding, at home, rafting at the Nantahala, in the medical office, in the labor and delivery room, at a family reunion, sitting around with friends and family, wherever he was, he made sure he could listen to music.
He had a great love and appreciation for many of the grass roots performers of early country music and bluegrass. He was a big fan of The Carter Family and so many of the original Grand Ole Opry performers such as Patsy Cline, Flatt and Scruggs, Hank Williams, Uncle Dave Macon, Grandpa Jones, Jim Reeves, Roy Acuff, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, and many more. He visited the Grand Ole Opry quite a few times in his life.
Doc attended the original MerleFest as its resident physician. He did not miss a single MerleFest since its inception in 1987 up to his last MerleFest in April of 2011. He was a fixture at all the musical events that occurred annually in Wilkes County. He was always present at Chickenfest, the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, Carolina in the Fall, and Americana Day. According to Ken Welborn, publisher of The Record newspaper, the Mayor of North Wilkesboro, George Church, would officially open up Chickenfest with the words “We can begin now, because our faithful attendee, Dr. Bryan is present.” Doc would often bring a chair for his beloved “Ruthie” to sit and enjoy the music by his side.
He began his own musical gathering about 5 years ago and called it his “Pre –Memorial”. His theme for this gathering was based on the song, “Give Me the Roses While I am Living.” He wanted to enjoy the music of his friends while he could. He invited many of his talented friends to come and play music for him and his guests. It was a free fun jam for all who were able to attend. He also provided food and drinks to complete the occasion.
Doc Bryan was also a man who encouraged local musicians by attending their performances and also by financially supporting them. He was great friends with the Krüger Brothers, David Culler and BackPorch Bluegrass, The Snyder Family, David Johnson, Charlie Tesh, Tut Taylor, Herb Key, Bill Williams, Mule Ferguson, Kirk and Maria Stadlin, Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society and too many more to name. However, he did not like receiving recognition or accolades for the support he would give to these musicians. He preferred to stay out of the limelight and would blush or shake his head when recognized for his generosity.
He enjoyed going to the Hometown Opry many Friday mornings, arriving to begin as early as 6:30am to take in the local talent performing that day live on WKBC radio. On a few occasions, he would sing along or even sing the lead to a song. After the Hometown Opry was over, a favorite tradition would be to continue the music at Harold Call’s Restaurant at Broadway, enjoying good food and more fun music with friends.
He frequently attended the Senior Center musical gatherings on Tuesday evenings where he would sing along with his many friends there. He would bring family, such as Jim England with him to share his talents on the juice harp and the autoharp. The musicians loved having him around because he knew the words to most any old time song by heart. His instrument of choice was his walnut carved wooden spoons. He enjoyed making rhythm to the music with his spoons, but he also mastered a few tunes, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the Plicket that Tut Taylor gave him.
Of course, he was known for his active membership in the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. His participation in that organization was a highlight to his promotion of traditional music in the area. Ken Welborn said that he was always glad to give Doc Bryan the stage to promote the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. At the Chickenfest of 2011, Doc set up a table and sold raffle tickets all day for a Deering Banjo. Those funds were to help support the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. At the Chickenfest performance, Dr. Bryan delighted the Elkville String Band and the audience when he made the remark that he would have just as soon been here (at Chickenfest) as at the Grand Ole Opry.
Doc Bryan’s lifelong love of traditional music gave him thousands of hours of listening pleasure and gave him a wonderful bond with so many of the talented and good people of Wilkes County. He would want the Traditional Americana Music of this area to continue to be promoted and preserved for future generations to enjoy as he did.
Dr. Bryan also enjoyed sharing his beloved music with his family. I can remember family reunions at Kerr Scott Lake when he would hire musicians to come play their instruments and sing the old time songs. He would also invite musicians and friends to his home to gather in the living room and play music and sing along. He enjoyed learning to play a “canjo” that his brother John Q. Bryan made for him and all the rest of the Bryan sisters. At the Bryan family reunion in Traphill, they played their canjos together. He and his brother-in-law Joe Brewer sang a few duets. Some of his 6 grandchildren had a love of traditional and bluegrass music. They spent many times at MerleFest together. The family remembers singing country tunes with Doc while riding up the ski lift to pass the time and try to stay warm. The nurses at the hospital have recalled many occasions in which Dr. Bryan sang in the delivery room, with nurses, and even patients joining in the old hymns or traditional songs. He would sing right in the middle of a delivery to calm the laboring mom down. He brightened up a room with his smile and his tunes. Doc was a living legend. Everyone who met Dr. Bryan knew that he loved life and that he had a deep abiding love for people. I am sure that in Heaven he is one of the loudest and happiest in the heavenly choir. And now he is playing his favorite instruments with perfect rhythm and is singing his favorite songs with perfect pitch.