David Deese remembered
By Mark Wineka
David Deese lived a double life. Many of his friends and clients knew the David Deese who was the devoted husband and father, the man with a golden heart and the person who did their taxes every year.
But Deese also was known among veteran bluegrass musicians and audiences as an accomplished banjo picker who performed with Arthur Smith, Bill Monroe, Red Smiley and the WBT Briarhoppers.
Deese, the accountant, and Deese, the banjo player, died Sunday afternoon after a weekend heart attack. He was 69.
“It’s a big loss for a lot of people, definitely me,” said Kim Alexander, co-owner of The Checkered Flag, where Deese often had lunch.
“He was like part of our family.”
A Vietnam veteran, Deese often paid the tab for any law enforcement officers in the Salisbury restaurant, Alexander said. At Christmas, he routinely took truckloads of gifts to needy mountain families, or he and his wife, Barbara, singled out a local family to help.
“I don’t think this man had a bad spot in him at all,” Alexander said.
Deese served as accountant for the Alexanders, who were the first of many restaurant owners in Salisbury relying on him to prepare their tax returns. He officially retired last December after being an accountant and tax preparer for 37 years.
Alexander said if you ever visited Deese at his log cabin office and home on Old Concord Road, “you had to have a couple of hours” because of all the things he could show you from his other life — bluegrass music.
There were stories connected to every picture in the cabin, she said.
“But he didn’t have a fancy life,” Alexander added. “He didn’t put on any airs. He was as you saw him.”
Salisbury Police Officer Rita Rule said Deese routinely gave her a hug and had such a positive attitude.
“He was just always a giving person,” she said Tuesday. “He and his wife would tell me about his old days of being buddies with Arthur Smith, doing shows on television.”
After the Bluegrass Unlimited magazine did a story on Deese in 2007, he gave Rule a signed copy. The inscription said, “To my most favorite police lady. I totally admire and am proud to call you my friend.”
Fellow bluegrass musician Don Hutchens, who put together reunions of Bill Monroe’s band members, wrote on a blog Sunday that “David was the closest thing I ever had to a brother when it came to music.”
Once, when Deese and Hutchens were driving back together after visiting a friend who was in bad health, David looked over at Hutchens and said, “Buddy, I want to make sure that one thing is straight between you and me. If for some reason I don’t wake up tomorrow morning, I want you to know that you’re my friend.”
Hutchens said those were the words they said to each other every time the friends parted from that time on.
“We gave each other our flowers while we were living,” Hutchens wrote. “I am going to miss him.”
Some years ago, Deese typed out seven single-spaced pages looking back at his music career and the bands and bluegrass greats with whom he played. He first played guitar on stage when he was 12, and his biggest influences, he said, “were a banjo-picking grandfather (Burl D. Deese) and a guitar-picking dad (C.D. “Tom” Deese).
By 15, he had moved to the banjo.
“I learned a number of chords and some finger work from a banjo picker I met whose name was Howard Kizziah,” Deese said. “I started doing radio work four days later. During the next four years, I entered every fiddlers’ convention within 100 miles. I won first place at least once in each one.”
As a teenager, he also played radio and television shows with his father in Spartanburg, S.C., Albemarle and Mount Airy.
When they performed at the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Va., Deese first met artists such as Monroe, Don Reno and Smiley, the Louvin Brothers, Mac Wiseman, Stonewall Jackson and Chief Powhatan — “several of which I would work with or record with later,” he said.
“At the Old Dominion,” he said, “Dad and I did not use a band. It was just the two of us. We went over quite well with the audience.”
In late December 1960, a 19-year-old Deese first met Arthur Smith in Charlotte and was hired to be part of a “banjo-fiddle-singing duet” with Jim Buchanan. Over the next 19 months, he was part of a one-hour morning television show, a half-hour Thursday night show and five-minute daily radio shows. They also did road shows on Friday and Saturday nights taking him all across the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia.
By early July 1962, the young Deese headed for Nashville on a weekend and, while he first looked to land a Job with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, fate led him to audition and become a Blue Grass Boy with Bill Monroe.
Later, when Don Reno and Red Smiley split, Smiley chose Deese as his banjo player until Deese was drafted into the Army in 1966 for a three-year hitch, which included a year’s tour in Vietnam.
After his return, Deese played with George Wynn near Richmond for awhile but soon joined the Jones Brothers. He stayed with the Jones Brothers for 21 years.
In 1991, while still with the Jones Brothers and quietly forming his own band, Deese filled in as banjo picker for The Original WBT Briarhoppers.
“I pulled triple duty for more than a year until I resigned from the Jones Brothers,” he said.
The Briarhoppers included Deese on banjo, Hank Warren on fiddle, Don White on bass, Arvil Hogan on mandolin and Roy Grant on guitar.
“This band is altogether another story that could easily fill books of great thickness,” Deese wrote.
Over the years, Deese recorded “many, many albums,” he said once, including more than a dozen with the Jones Brothers and at least two with his own group, Betty Fisher-David Deese and the Dixie Bluegrass.
He went back to school while with the Jones Brothers and earned a degree in accounting and business administration, leading to his own business in 1976.
His real name was Clonnie David Deese Jr.
“In the military you are called your first name and your middle initial, which made me ‘Clonnie D.’” he wrote.
So when Barbara gave birth to their daughter in 1969, they decided to name her Connie Dee.
Deese’s funeral will be held at 3 p.m. today at the Linn-Honeycutt Funeral Home Chapel, followed by his burial in the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.