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Wednesday, 17 May 2006 00:00

Child’s Play: Swain youth is champion picker

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

At age 12, Seth Taylor is a quiet, tanned, tow-headed boy. He seems well mannered, intelligent, and at ease, his lanky frame leaned back in a folding chair. However, he’s unprepared to answer questions about what drove him to begin a career in music — one that’s already led to numerous awards, two album releases, and a chance to open for Charlie Daniels.

The youngest of five children with divergent interests, none of which include music, Taylor has been playing the guitar since he was 3 years old, the banjo since he was 8. Formal lessons on each instrument lasted two years and six months respectively. The rest is self-taught.

He plays largely by ear, applying his skills to most any stringed instrument he’s handed, which also include the upright bass, mandolin and dobro — all of which he plays on his second album, Shady Grove, a release he also gets co-production credits for, as the arrangements are all his.

He’ll tell you his favorites are Country Music Television regulars like Terri Clark, Brad Paisley and Tracy Byrd if he’s not shrugging his narrow shoulders, and giving an impish, but affable, “I don’t know,” and looking toward his mother, Patti Jo, to answer for him. No, Taylor isn’t much for talking. But hand the boy an instrument and the shyness slips away.

With a guitar tucked up under his arm, a request to play leads to a smooth, deftly played solo with a clear, rapid outpouring of notes that would be impressive coming from someone twice his age. It’s no wonder that he is the National Junior Champion for guitar, banjo and dobro, and ranked fourth among adults in the National Banjo Competition.

Taylor decides for himself what competitions he will enter.

“I don’t like competitions,” Patti Jo says.

“Why?” Seth asks, strumming away.

“Because they make me very nervous,” Patti Jo replies with a soft smile.

Seth shakes his head and keeps playing. His winnings from concerts and performance fees are what have bought all his instruments, excluding his first guitar, which he got as a Christmas present, and his prized Ome Green Primrose Megaton 200 with a mother-of-pearl inlay on the handle.

Taylor fell in love with the banjo at a competition in Winfield, Kansas. First-, second- and third-place winners in the competition would receive a banjo and an Ome company representative promised Taylor that if he won, she would trade the prize banjo for the Green Primrose one.

Taylor placed fourth, just missing out. But as it turned out the company had been keeping track of Taylor and offered him a sponsorship. He got the banjo — no (contractual) strings attached. The company’s only hope was that Taylor would play it in public on occasion.

“It’s the best deal you could hope for in the music business,” Patti Jo said.

Taylor is home-schooled, also a decision he made for himself while in the third grade. He was ahead of the class, and grading papers in his spare time.

Now in a less formal setting, he’s still responsible about doing his schoolwork, despite a busy touring schedule that includes everything from Relay for Life benefit performances to the Georgia Mountain Fair, Merlefest or this Saturday’s Strawberry Jam Festival at Darnell Farms just outside Bryson City.

If he’s not doing schoolwork, or practicing, or at church — attended every Sunday morning regardless of how late Saturday night’s show lasted — he can usually be found helping out either on the nursery in Robbinsville or in the real estate office in Bryson City where his mom splits her time.

But of all the skills that Taylor has mastered, there’s just one that he refuses to try — singing.

“He likes to hear himself whistle, it drives you nuts,” Patti Jo says.

“They don’t like it, that’s why I do it,” Seth returns with a grin.

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