Gene Wyatt Photos | Digital Traditions

Born and raised in a mill village in Converse, South Carolina, Gene Wyatt, or “Colonel Gene” as he was known on the music scene, first picked up the guitar when he was 10. From a musical family, Wyatt grew up listening to the traditional country music of the 1930s and 1940s. He spent his youth picking cotton, and playing guitar and baseball. Baseball took him to California when the textile leagues recruited him to play for the Fresno Cardinals.

He spent seven years playing for various teams, but never made it to the major leagues. After giving up on baseball, Wyatt turned to his first love, music, and moved back to South Carolina. While performing at various venues in the Spartanburg area, Wyatt also taught guitar at public schools and colleges and later at his private studio. In the late 1970s, Wyatt and Walter “Hank” Garland became a familiar billing at local state fairs as the country western band “Gene Wyatt and the Entertainers.” By the 1980s Wyatt helped organize “The Jam,” a well-known gathering place near Spartanburg, where people came to play bluegrass and country music. Wyatt and his son Wes then started a band called “Hot Guitar.”

The band’s sound was best described as progressive folk music and their repertoire ranged from songs like Hogie Carmichael’s “Freight Train Boogie” to Irving Berlin’s “Blue Sky.” While the “Colonel” played everything from folk to jazz to bluegrass, he continued to teach the traditional music that he learned as a child as well. Wyatt received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1999.