The Piney Woods Boys

Old Time

The Piney Woods Boys are Jim Collier, Wayne Martin, Matt Haney, and Margaret Martin. Music friends for upwards of fifty years, each of them can trace their early musical efforts to the inspiring music of the family and community of Doc Watson.

The Piney Woods Boys joined The Kruger Brothers on March 3, 2023 for PineCone’s Celebration of Doc Watson’s 100th Birthday.

The heart of the early Watson Family music was the graceful fiddle and banjo of Doc’s father-in-law, Gaither Carlton. “His tunes awaken something from long ago in you,” said Jim Collier in a November 2022 interview. “It’s like they are part of your genetics. [Playing them] just sorta brings all that to the surface.”

 “One of the first records I bought as a teenager was the ‘Watson Family’ album,” says Jim. “I listened to it endlessly. I was so taken with it that I wanted to learn the songs on it and meet the people that played and sang them.”

“He was the Banjo Guy at school,” says Margaret. She and Wayne both remember hearing Jim playing at Broughton High School in Raleigh where all three were students.   Margaret soon bought her own banjo. Wayne, from a musical family in Georgia, picked up the fiddle. Jim played at their wedding in 1976.

“I’m the new kid on the block,” laughs Matt Haney. “I’ve only been here 20 years. I grew up in Minnesota and my dad brought home a fiddle so we could all try it out.  In 1965 my parents took us to hear Doc Watson with Fred Price and Clint Howard, and later that year there was a banjo and a guitar under the Christmas tree.”

After high school, Jim got to know the Watson family and played for a time in a band with Gaither Carlton, Arnold Watson and Paul Greer.  “In 1974 their band was going to play at Fiddlers’ Grove,” Wayne remembers, “and so I went, hoping to hear Gaither, but he had become ill and passed away a few months later. Later on I connected with Gaither’s son, Jay Carlton. Whenever we get together, he brings his dad’s fiddle and I tune it up and play these tunes on it. It’s poignant — Jay still feels very deeply about his dad’s playing.”

For Jim Collier, the connection to this music is firmly rooted in emotions and place. “I can remember hearing those tunes and songs for the first time and having a visceral connection to them.  They conjured up mental images and deep feelings that remain to this day.  This music speaks to the issues that everyone deals with: love found, lost or unrequited, death and the afterlife, just the day-to-day trials and joys we all experience. The landscapes of  ‘The House Carpenter’ and ‘Matty Groves,’ or the beauty of true love in ‘My Lone Journey’ — I can see those landscapes in my mind or feel that deep sorrow of losing one’s life’s partner.  It just speaks to me in a way that nothing else does.”

After decades of individually pursuing musical traditions from old-time fiddle to bluegrass to Cajun to blues, Jim, Wayne, Margaret and Matt formed the Piney Woods Boys to revisit the music of the Watsons. With the passing years, their relation to the music has changed, Wayne says. “As our own music matured, we wanted to present the qualities of the Watsons’ music that included, but also went beyond, the excitement of a flat-picked guitar tune. It is the directness, the sparseness, and most of all the feeling, that we hear in their ballads, hymns and old-time fiddle tunes that made us want to return to this music and share it with others.”

While music has always been central in their lives, all four worked in fields other than music. Jim is a retired engineer, Matt worked for Sears as a repair technician and Margaret retired from the state wildlife agency. Wayne was with the NC Arts Council for 34 years, the last 10 as its Executive Director. He and Margaret helped found PineCone in 1984.

Jim Collier spent considerable time with the Watson family. In this video, he tells the story of how he shared the tune “Cold Frosty Morning” with Doc Watson. Doc later recorded the traditional fiddle tune. Doc’s son Merle would later name his band Frosty Morn.