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Music legend David Holt snapped some telling photos of his musical mentors

(Photo credit David Holt)

Asheville music legend David Holt is even more talented than you think.

He's got four Grammy Awards to his credit, but a photo exhibit sheds light on the musical masters who helped teach him the tricks of the trade over the years.

The "Mentors and Heroes" exhibit is on display until May 6 at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Western Office at 176 Riceville Road.

"Oh, my name is Georgia Buck. Never had no luck. Always been treated this way," Holt sings, belting out a song called "Georgia Buck."

News 13 only heard one voice, but it's anything but a solo act. Holt found his way with the help of dozens of iconic performers he's proud to call mentors.

"You know, I use these photos in my shows for context about what I'm doing and where it's coming from," he explained, dropping some prominent names in music.

"Ray Hicks was a wonderful story teller who came up in Boone," he said, pointing to pictures. "George Higgs a great harmonica player."

The exhibit includes some of Holt's prized instruments, but it's his photos that help put a face on priceless musical roots.

"When I first came to the mountains I realized, man, somebody needs to photograph these people," he recalled.

"He's really looking into your soul," he said of Morgan Sexton. He then showed a portrait of Walt Davis of Black Mountain.

"He said I was determined to play old time music or starve. And I've been doing both ever since," Holt repeats with a chuckle.

"So, you've got to have a camera with a fast shutter and no delay," Holt said. "And you've got to feel it. When you feel that moment between you and them -- Bam, you get that shot!"

It's Ralph Stanley who steered David toward the mountains.

"I asked him where I could learn the old clawhammer style banjo that his mother played, and he said, 'Well, you need to go to Asheville,'" Holt said.

"Of course, my main mentor was Doc Watson," he said. "I loved him from the time I was in high school. And when I got to play with him from 1968 'til his death, that was the highlight of my career."

Their collaboration led to a Grammy on display next to a picture of his late father, Joe. Joe wasn't a professional musician, but he did pass along a musical tradition -- a quirky instrument handed down through generations known as "the bones."

"You know, I was just looking at this case with this old Grammy Award and the old bones, and dad, he would love the recognition," Holt said with pride.

He makes no "bones" about the people who shaped his authentic brand of music.

"These were some powerful people," he said. "These were people who were grounded and centered and had a great skill and need to be acknowledged and remembered. "

It's Holt's homage to the names who helped him make a name for himself.

"The difference they made is that they were the real thing," he said.

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