Counting Down our Top 5 Tarheel Rockers

July 20, 2019

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame honors our state's greatest musicians across all genres. Today, we look at our 5 favorite rock and roll inductees!

Link Wray

Widely heralded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Link Wray—the Rock and Roll giant who influenced Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, and the Who—was born in the small Harnett County town of Dunn, North Carolina. Wray’s eccentric playing techniques, which included distortion, feedback, and the power chord (now an indispensable tool in every rock and roll guitarist’s musical toolbox), are front and center in his 1958 instrumental hit, “Rumble.” Initially banned from radio in the United States, “Rumble” soon became a classic for musicians and music enthusiasts alike. Bob Dylan once remarked that “Rumble” was “the best instrumental ever.” Link Wray passed away in 2005. 

Arthur Smith

Born in 1921 in the town of Clinton, South Carolina, Arthur Smith tried to scrape out a living working in local textile mills. Acquiring a love for music from his father, the director of the town’s brass band, Smith left Clinton for greener pastures as a performer on Charlotte’s WBT radio station. During a stint in the navy during World War II, Smith wrote “Guitar Boogie.” Jokingly referred to as “the record that launched a million guitar lessons,” the 1948 recording of “Guitar Boogie” sold over four million copies and became one of the earliest crossover hits. Smith soon after opened the first commercial recording studio in the Southeast in Charlotte and hosted the “Arthur Smith Show,” the first nationally syndicated country music television show. A prolific songwriter, Smith turned out over 500 songs over the course of his lifetime, many of which were covered by the likes of Roy Orbison, Tommy Emmanuel, and Tom Petty. Smith’s flashy guitar style, featured in “Guitar Boogie,” influenced subsequent generations of rock and roll musicians. During his first concert with the Quarrymen in 1957, a young Paul McCartney “got sticky fingers,” as he put it and flubbed a rendition of “Guitar Boogie.” Although McCartney’s botched performance failed to get him booted from the band, another aspiring guitarist was brought in to pick up the slack. That guitarist was George Harrison. The Quarrymen were later renamed the Beatles. Rock and roll lovers have the late Arthur Smith to thank for that. 

Warren Haynes

Born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1960, Warren Haynes first musical memory is tied up in the soundscape of North Carolina. “The first sound that ever moved me was black gospel music coming over the radio in North Carolina, where I grew up. It kinda made the hair on my arms stand up.” An avid fan of motown, country, bluegrass, and eventually rock and roll music, Warren started playing guitar at age twelve and soon developed a reputation as a soulful soloist, handy with a slide. After a four-year stint playing guitar with the country cult icon David Allan Coe, Haynes gigged with the Dickey Betts Band and the Allman Brothers Band before founding the jam band Gov’t Mule in 1994. Following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, Haynes began appearing with surviving members of the Grateful Dead.

Ben Folds

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Folds was born in 1966 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After a stint gigging in local high school bands as a pianist, bassist, and drummer, Folds attended the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. Dropping out one credit short of his graduation requirements, Folds pursued a brief career in musical theater in New York before moving back to North Carolina. From 1995 to 2000, Folds was the frontman and pianist of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five, which achieved commercial success with hits such as “Army,” “Brick,” and “Battle of Who Could Care Less.” As a solo artist, Folds has collaborated with musicians such as William Shatner and Regina Spektor, and he has performed with various orchestras including the Boston Pops and the North Carolina Symphony.

James Taylor

It may come as no surprise that James Taylor’s roots run deep in North Carolina (after all, his father was the dean of the school of medicine at the University of North Carolina). While Taylor’s affinity for the Tar Heel state is eloquently expressed in his 1968 hit, “Carolina in My Mind,” Taylor’s most profound memories of North Carolina take lyrical form in “Copperline,” a song Taylor cowrote with Reynolds Price in 1991. Set against the backdrop of Taylor’s childhood home in the Morgan Creek neighborhood of Chapel Hill, “Copperline” conjures up simple, compelling snapshots of a boy’s coming of age in North Carolina: Branch water and tomato wine, creosote and turpentine, sour mash and new moon shine, down on Copperline. Taylor’s introspective writing, mellow vocals, and virtuosic guitar style have earned the Grammy Award winner a place in the hearts and homes of music lovers around the world as well as a spot on our list of the best Tarheel rockers.

Link Wray - "Rumble"
Arthur Smith - "Guitar Boogie"



Gov't Mule - "Banks Of The Deep End"
Ben Folds - "Army"
James Taylor - "Fire and Rain"