Larry Wallace is one of the nation’s top bluegrass banjo players, and has been active in bluegrass music for over forty years. He was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and grew up around the area of McCall Creek in Franklin County, which is in southwest Mississippi near the river. In relation to the Flatt and Scruggs’ song, “Ten Miles from Natchez”, Larry grew up fifty miles from Natchez. In 1981 at the age of twenty, he moved to Starkville in northeast Mississippi to attend Mississippi State University. After living there for 34 years, and spending many of those years traveling all over the country, Larry and his wife Barbara, recently moved back home to McCall Creek.
Through the years, Larry has been a member of several bluegrass groups including Perfect Tyming, The Warrior River Boys, and Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys.
Larry Wallace was a member of Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys in Nashville for 10 years and holds the record as the banjo player with the longest tenure with the “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin.
During his youth, Larry grew up listening to the fiddle playing of his maternal grandfather, Lewis Rushing, and the guitar playing of his father, George Wallace. According to Larry, Rushing was one of the most in-demand fiddlers in the region in the ‘30s and ‘40s and had an exquisite sense of timing. Rushing taught Wallace to play the fiddle when he was eleven, and at thirteen Wallace picked up the banjo himself. Wallace also learned guitar from his father, George Wallace, who was himself taught by Rushing. The three generations of musicians often played together, and -augmented by others-performed as The McCall Creek Bluegrass Boys, mostly at local events including peanut boils and political rallies.
In addition to playing locally, The McCall Creek Bluegrass Boys became a festival favorite for traditional bluegrass music in Mississippi and the surrounding states. The band stayed busy playing bluegrass festivals in the tri-state area of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. During this time, Larry had the opportunity to perform with some of the legendary performers of bluegrass music. When they would come to the deep south, Larry played banjo with Mac Wiseman, Chubby Wise, Josh Graves, and Joe Stuart. Performing with and being around these legends of bluegrass gave Larry a great opportunity at a very young age to learn from some of the very best in bluegrass music.
Wallace’s talents on the banjo first gained prominent recognition in October of 1978, when he won the Mississippi State Banjo Championship. He proceeded to win the competition annually through 1984 and then once again in 2010. In 2009 and 2010, Larry was named Mississippi’s “Banjo Player of The Year” by the Magnolia State Bluegrass Association.
In 1989 Larry Wallace joined Rounder Records recording artist, David Davis and The Warrior River Boys, from Cullman, Alabama. The group already had a national reputation, and was one of the best groups devoted to traditional bluegrass and Wallace played with the group until May of 1991. In June of that year he fulfilled a long-time dream when he joined the Sunny Mountain Boys, the band of bluegrass pioneer and “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin, whose music had captivated Wallace since he was a boy. Wallace had approached Martin about a job in 1980, and was honored when Martin later sought him out. In addition to playing the banjo, Wallace also sang bass and baritone parts in Martin’s band.
Highlights of Larry’s years with Martin included performing on the Grand Ole Opry and a Bill Monroe Tribute at the Ryman Auditorium, playing on Martin’s final album Got It Made in the Shade in 1995, and appearing in the 2002 documentary The King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin; Wallace also appears on the soundtrack LP and CD, Don’t Cry to Me, on Thrill Jockey Records. Wallace’s prominent position in Martin’s band also resulted in endorsement deals with Stelling Banjos, Huber Tone Rings, Snuffy Smith Banjo Bridges, and GHS Strings.
Larry Wallace played with Jimmy Martin longer than any other banjo player, and attributes his long tenure to his deep understanding of Martin’s music. “I didn’t play for Jimmy Martin, I played with Jimmy Martin,” Wallace says. “He always told me I played correctly, and I was one of the lucky ones that made it in his band. Musically, I was one of the few who understood what he wanted.” He was particularly influenced by Martin’s strong will for playing the music with feeling and his unique timing.
Martin’s guitar work was featured on Wallace’s debut CD Larry Wallace with Jimmy Martin - Sunny Mountain Banjo, an all-instrumental album recorded in 1994 for Atteiram Records that also features bluegrass fiddle great Charlie Cline and mandolin great Vernon Derrick. In March of 2007, Gusto Records of Nashville re-released the album and included Sunny Mountain Banjo in its worldwide distribution.
In 2010, Gusto Records released two bluegrass compilation albums that feature many classic recordings from several legendary bluegrass artists. Included on these releases are two instrumentals from Sunny Mountain Banjo. Larry’s “Pike County Breakdown” is included on 16 Blazin’ Bluegrass and “Fire on The Mountain” appears on Essential Bluegrass: 16 Classics. Larry states, “This is one of the greatest things to happen in my career. Growing up, I collected many classic Gusto albums and I just can’t believe that now I’m a part of that label in Nashville. This is definitely a dream come true.”
In 2011, Larry began performing with Alan Sibley and The Magnolia Ramblers, a very popular Mississippi traditional bluegrass gospel group. The band has an excellent repertoire consisting of standard and original gospel material, as well as traditional bluegrass songs and instrumentals. Alan Sibley and The Magnolia Ramblers have been featured multiple times on RFD-TV’s Cumberland Highlanders Show.
Larry Wallace has appeared on The Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame, The Nashville Network (TNN), Great American Country (GAC), RFD-TV, Ontario, Canada, and The Bluegrass Cruise to the Bahamas. His musical work has been documented by the Mississippi Arts Commission and he has also been awarded a Folk Arts Apprenticeship three times as a Master Traditional Artist by the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Since the late 1970’s, Larry has taught private lessons on the banjo, guitar, and mandolin. From 1982 to 1993 he was the banjo and guitar instructor of group classes for Mississippi State University’s Short Courses program. He is currently working on his autobiography that will include many stories from his years with Jimmy Martin, two instructional banjo DVDs - The Physics of The Five-String Banjo and The Science of The Solid Right Hand, and is also writing a traditional banjo instruction book. In 2018, Larry Wallace celebrates 43 years of bluegrass banjo playing.