Songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler and Special Guests Celebrate New Memoir

From Staff Reports
Black Mountain News|USA TODAY NETWORKS

Longtime Swannanoa resident Billy Edd Wheeler is a West Virginia born troubadour in the Appalachian storytelling tradition. His country and folk songs have been made famous by Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers (“Coward of the County”), Richie Havens (“High Flying Bird”), Hohn Denver (“Ann”) and many more.

But the prolific Wheeler is also a  visual artist, a playwright and, most relevant to the upcoming Saturday, July 28, 8 p.m event at the White Horse Black Mountain, an author. The evening will be a celebration of Wheeler’s life and work in the wake of his recently released memoir, Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout, a line pulled from the Wheeler-penned hit “Jackson” recorded by Johnny and June Carter Cash.

All told, Wheeler's songs have sold in excess of 56 million copies and have been recorded by over 150 artists.

The evening will feature relaxed conversations and stories about Wheeler's long and varied career. He’ll be joined by close friends Kathy Mattea, Warren Wilson College President Emeritus and folklorist Doug Orr and the band Whitewater Bluegrass Company.

Grammy winning singer Mattea sometimes describes herself as a “recovering Country Music star”. She had considerable chart success in the Nashville system, but a combination of shifting musical trends, local changes and a desire to explore less commercial subject matter prompted a change in direction.

Mattea, now following her own muse, continues to be a songwriter and interpreter of the first rank, and her recent work has often touched on the impact of coal mining on Appalachian communities.

She’ll perform several of Wheeler's timeless coal mining songs, including “Coal Tattoo”, “Red Wing Blackbird”, “Coming of the Roads” and others. Her own acclaimed recent album is Pretty Bird, produced by roots music maven Tim O’Brien.

While President of Warren Wilson College (Wheeler is a ’53 WWC alum) Orr launched the nationally renowned Swannanoa Gathering traditional music camps, and earlier on was instrumental in launching the radio career of Fiona Ritchie of NPR’s popular Celtic music show “Thistle and Shamrock." Since retiring from academia he has co-authored, with Ritchie, the New York Times bestseller Wayfaring Stranger, which chronicles the musical journey of the Scots-Irish in the Appalachians and beyond. Orr and his wife Darcy are also notable performers in their own right.

Whitewater Bluegrass Company has been together for thirty-five years and has performed alongside bluegrass legends. They’ll contribute renditions of Wheeler favorites “Jackson”, “Rev. Mr. Black” and more.