He has been referred to as “A Legendary Banjo Player”. Kyle Creed (1912-1982) lived at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Surry County, North Carolina. Coming from a musical family and being surrounded by old time music, he was just as adept at playing the fiddle as the banjo.
As a young man, Kyle married Percy Hicks (1912-1999) and had two daughters. He was skilled at saw mill operations, carpentry, and stone masonry. At times he found it necessary to relocate his family to different parts of the country in order to follow his occupation.Kyle and Percy moved to Galax, Virginia area in Carroll County in 1960 where they bought a country store. Moving back near his musical roots of North Carolina, he reunited with his “old music buddies” from the 30s and 40s. Together with Paul Sutphin, Earnest East, Fred Cockerham, Verlin Clifton and Ronald Collins, Kyle formed the “Camp Creek Boys” old time music band and began making numerous recordings.
At age 16 Kyle crafted his first banjo using tools and material available to him at the time. Repairing musical instruments and building personal banjos was the beginning of a new career. Soon he had a list of orders for his custom made banjos to be shipped throughout the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Japan.
Kyle Creed was an innovator in banjo building, as well as a talented banjo and fiddle player. He excelled in his trade as a carpenter which aided his craftsmanship abilities. With his excellent banjo playing in the clawhammer and the older two-finger picking styles he knew the qualities that were most desirable in an old-time banjo. While growing up he had noticed that the fretless banjo played by the older musicians in the area had the bridge located toward the center of the banjo head. Thus, he came up with a formula to shorten the scale length of the banjo and bring the bridge toward the center of the head. Today the shorter scale length is considered very desirable by most open back banjo players and is used by open back banjo builders around the world. He also retro-fitted tenor banjo rims with his 5-string necks, built a few resonator banjos, came up with his own tone rings from brass and bronze and a few of his own peg head designs. He liked to experiment and built some banjos with 11 and 12 inch heads. He designed his own two sided finger pick that slips over the first finger to enable him to pick upwards or down. The pick was cut from the brass of a model T Ford headlight reflector in the shape of a “T” and then shaped to fit over and around the finger.
Being a saw miller, Kyle knew about the particular characteristics of different types of wood. He used local wood in his banjo building process; maple, curly maple, apple, wild cherry, black walnut and dogwood. Sometimes he used table top formica on the fingerboard and pegheads. Using the formica on the fretted banjo fingerboard was time consuming and tedious fitting between the frets and was much easier on the fretless since the fingerboard was cut in one piece. The fretless banjo players like the formica fingerboard because it enables them to slide their fingers to note. A fretless banjo built by Kyle especially for Fred Cockerham was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Fred’s family made the presentation in June 1988.
Kyle’s innovative ideas, experiments and playing skills have impacted the old-time banjo builders and players throughout the world. All the banjos Kyle built, just under 200, are highly sought after by players and collectors today because of their uniqueness, sound and playability.