Growing up in Buffalo, SC, Vanderford first learned to play the mouth harp, or harmonica, from his grandfather, who played “old mountain songs” on the instrument. Initially, Vanderford blended the country style of his grandfather with the sound of the Chicago blues. However, an encounter with the Piedmont blues of Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson would forever change Vanderford’s musical style.
In the 1960s, Vanderford first heard Peg Leg Sam play the blues on the radio. When the Union County teenager discovered that the blues harpist and former medicine show performer lived nearby, he set out to meet him, hoping to learn something of his skill and his style. The two eventually developed a close relationship, from which Vanderford learned a great deal about the Piedmont blues. Today, his music is one of the closest links to the early masters of a unique musical tradition.
In a pattern common to any folk tradition, Vanderford combines his traditional blues roots with his own variations and new material. He entertains audiences with his renditions of the blues, playing solo or with fellow musicians such as “Little Pink” Anderson, Brandon Turner, Steve McGaha, and others. His discography includes Piedmont Blues, recorded with Brandon Turner under the name of the New Legacy Duo. His music is also featured on Feel the Presence: Traditional African American Music in South Carolina, an album produced through the McKissick Museum’s Folklife Resource Center, and in Stan Woodward’s film BBQ and Homecooking, a documentary on foodways in the state.
Vanderford’s passion for the blues shines through in performances, at venues from clubs and juke joints to the historic Hagood Mill. His enthusiasm for the blues is also apparent in his willingness to pass on the tradition. Radio appearances, guest lectures, participation in workshops, and serving as a mentor to aspiring musicians are just some of the ways Vanderford ensures that the tradition of the Piedmont blues will continue to thrive. Vanderford received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2010.