D. D. Yokeley, We Hardly Knew Ye

Here’s a charming, albeit unfinished, story to cap off our year.

I just snagged this off eBay and it arrived Christmas Eve: a press photo taken 1/29/64 and published in the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, February 2, 1964.

On the back is taped a portion of the newspaper article, which is unfortunately missing its last column(s).  (But I’ll include what I have.)  On top of this was taped a clipping (again, partial) of Yokeley’s obituarty, stamped Dec 4, 1978.

So far, he has not shown up in the Newspaper Archives, so we’ll have to wait to read the remaining bits.

I love how they refer to Yokeley as “this small chunk of North Carolina” and describe his museum display “(admission one quarter).”

Note how someone has swapped his Gibson style U tuners to the front (?!).

So far, Yokeley seems to be one of the very first of us: vintage stringed instrument collector, player, and occasional harp guitarist.  He would have been right at home at the Gathering!

From the St. Petersburg Times,Feb 2, 1964:

He Plays Those Strings Li…(remainder missing)
By Dick Bothwell
Of The Times Staff

The Great American Hootenanny has swept stringed instruments back into popular favor – and nobody is happier about it than a stocky little musician named David D. Yokeley who plays like a man with 18 fingers.

You’ll find this small chunk of North Carolina holding forth at 671 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, in Sanborn’s New Museum of Old Stringed Instruments. Surrounded by a remarkable assortment of banjos, guitars, mandolins and variations thereof, the cheerful, courteous Yokeley is himself a period piece.

At 60, he’s a perfect specimen of the fast-disappearing hill country musician – rapidly being replaced by such youthful groups as Peter, Paul and Mary.

But Yokeley’s not complaining. He’s happy as a clam, busy repairing instruments and teaching his specialties, banjo “Blue Grass style” and hoedown fiddlin’, as well as guitar: “I can play anything with strings,” he grins proudly showing you around the 50-instrument collection he’s acquired over the years, from friends, fellow musicians and pawn shops.

Folks who like stringed instruments won’t want to miss his display (admission one quarter) for it probably is one .of the finest private groups in the country.

Here is a curious 4-string “hula guitar” from the islands; a home-made guitar carved out of a white oak tree by Yokeley at 14; a 300-year-old violin, a huge mandolin that rings like a steeple bell; a guitar-banjo and another banjo made from the copper head of a Carolina still.

“This,” says Yokeley, lovingly taking up a small, much-worn banjo minus frets; “was owned by an old former slave…(remainder missing)

From the Dec. 4, 1978 Obituary:

David D. Yokeley, well-known hoedown fiddler and teacher of stringed musical instruments, died Saturday (Dec. 2, 1978) at the age of 75. Mr. Yokeley was one of a vanishing breed – the hill country musician. He could play any string instrument and had a collection of about 50 that he collected over the years from friends, fellow musicians and pawn shops. He taught his pupils at Banjo Ranch (a double garage at his home, converted to a studio) until diabetes forced him to quit teaching five months ago. He continued to play even though he had lost the feeling in his fingers from the illness. It was hard for him to…(remainder missing)

  1. April Rigsby Says:

    Dear Gregg, I was just talking to my grandchildren today about the banjo I got from my grandfather when I was 11 years old. I decided to google his name and see if I could find anything to show them about who he was and his collection of musical instruments. Was I shocked to find this article and to see this picture that I knew from childhood!
    I was born in 1956 and always remembered spending so much time at “Mom” and “Pop’s” house in St. Pete. My mom had polio when I was a baby so I stayed with he and my grandmother for a long time while she went through therapy. My brother, sisters, cousins and I pretty much grew up there.
    We used to spend hours listening to him “pick” on his banjos and he always let us strum along the best we could. He told us all we could have any instrument we wanted as long as we learned to play it. I always loved to watch his fingers fly over the strings of the banjo so that is what I chose and I still have it.
    The banjo ranch was so much more than the picture shows. As kids it was more like the Disney World of musical instruments. Plus, there was a huge pond in the back yard where he would catch turtles and my grandmother would make turtle stew. The back yard was full of mulberry trees, too, and we spent hours climbing them and eating the berries right off the trees. Thank you for posting this. Brought back a lot of childhood memories!

  2. Roger Reed Says:

    Gregg,
    For some reason I have been thinking about my high school years and Mr. Yokeley came to mind. In ’64 & ’65 a friend of mine was a student of Mr. Yokeley and we would occasionally stop by his home to allow my friend to ask if the technique he was working on was proper or to listen to the music or sometimes just check to make sure he was doing OK.
    My friend, Tim Baughman (later Timothy H. Baughman, Ph.D.) became very good at the 5 string “banjer” learning Mr. Yokeley’s “double thumb” method. Tim also took fiddle lessons and became good at that also. I remember listening to the lessons and was impressed with Mr. Yokeley’s patience and kindness while teaching.
    The most fun was when Mr. Yokeley and any reasonably talented visitor would sit down and play. It was fun for everyone but what I remember most is that almost every one of them said “Thank, I learned a lot from you tonight.”
    I’m sure that the St. Petersburg Times (now called Tampa Bay Times) has the above stories in their files and would probably share them with you.

  3. Patricia Yokeley Montemayor Says:

    Hi! I am David Yokeley’s only living granddaughter. I can remember visiting my grandfather’s banjo ranch when I was a child. I still remember playing in the house and there would be a knock on the door and several men would walk in wearing suits and carrying instrument cases. the men would not say a word. they just put their cases down, took out their instruments, stand around in a circle for hours playing blue grass. From what I understand, my grandfather played in the Grand Ole Opery and cut tapes for the show Hee Haw. He owned Merle Haggar’s first guitar. He also knew most of the old country and blue grass stars of that time. He was well known in that circle. I ended up with a few of his instruments. Unfortuntely most of his instruments have been sold over the years. One of his banjo’s I ended up with is a banjo that was made for him when he was a child by a former slave. I would very much like to have the banjo appraised but have no idea on how to do that.

  4. Robbie Phillips Says:

    This is my Grandfather. He got me interested in playing the guitar. Gave me my first guitar. I was mostly self-taught, but he lit the fire. The only music to him was Bluegrass. I remember being in amazment going out to the double-car garage that I don’t think ever housed an automobile. i was full of stringed instruments. He could play anything with strings. Ant\yhing! Even a Japanese stringed instrument. Gave it to him and he broke out in the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.

  5. Mark Newsom Says:

    My brother and dad took some banjo strumming lessons from him. I still have the Kay 4 string banjo my dad bought from him. I was pretty young but I remember going into his place and seeing all the instruments hanging everywhere. I also remember going to some music Hall to see my brother get up on stage and strum with the guys. My brother’s banjo was ukulele size with a blue sparkle drum. I think I remember a pond behind Mr. Yokeley’s place as well. That’s about all I remember. I was 4 or 5.

  6. Dan Fisher Says:

    For some reason while mowing the lawn today the name DD Yokeley popped into my mind. So I googled it and found this site. I took banjo lessons at his house in the mid 70’s. They don’t make people like that any more. Our lessons almost always went overtime with him telling me stories of his days in Vaudeville and time spent in the FBI before it was called the FBI. He had a tiny pistol that a man shot him in the mouth with. Blew out one of his teeth! DD Yokeley wound up with the gun so I guess we know how that turned out. I wasn’t very good at the banjo, but I always enjoyed the times when I played something he taught me and he would pick up a guitar, or fiddle and play along. What a guy. What a life he lived. What made me think of him 40 years later?

  7. Gregg Says:

    What a fantastic coincidence and memories, thanks for writing Dan!

  8. Llyn French Says:

    Old Key West Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, FL, hosts Florida Folk Night every Tuesday. This week, the guest musician, who was down from Nashville, played a mahogany Martin dated 1929 or 1930. It reminded me of the Martin that I saw at D.D. Yokeley’s in summer 1969 when I had gone there in search of a hard-shell case for my 1958 Martin O-15 (a gift from my Oklahoma band-leader grandfather, and yes, I still have it). Yokeley’s Martin, which was in amazingly good condition, was built between 1830 and 1833 and looked very similar to mine. Yokeley said his was valued at $5,000. Wow! – Mr. Yokeley was one our favorite local heroes. We kids, who in those days played folk at Tom Reese’s Beaux Arts Coffeehouse in Pinellas Park, would go to Yokeley’s to watch and listen to the old-timey music professionals and enjoy Yokeley’s enthusiasm and NC dialect. “Let’s do Under th’ Wippin’ Willer Tree agin!” He spoke of his son, who had been in the military many years. I asked, “So is he a career man?” Yokeley answered, “Oh yayas, he’s bin t’ Ko-rear too.” Everyone’s favorite was his 18-string guitar. One local musician opened a coffeehouse in Tampa and named it The 18th String. We still remember Yokeley when we pass the corner where we used to turn off 66th Street to go to his house.

  9. Michael Frey Says:

    Gregg – I have D.D. Yokeley’s 12/4/78 obituary (complete) from the St. Petersburg Times, which features the 1964 photo you’ve posted, but the text is different from the partial obit you have. Maybe yours is from a different newspaper. (Was there still a St. Pete Independent in ’78?) I also have a longer article about D.D. from the Times dated May 20, 1974, with a later photo of him, age 71. Both of these newsprint artifacts are yellowed with age, but now that you’ve caused me to “dig them out”, I intend to scan them soon. I can email you copies if you’d like. Let me know. I saved the articles all this time because Mr. Yokeley was an important person in my life when I was a teenager just getting into playing music. I met him in the summer of ’65, between my junior and senior year of high school, and we kind of hit it off. I was still learning but I knew enough to accompany him, and he recognized that I had a good ear and sense of rhythm and learned songs quickly. He noticed my strumming style, which somehow I’d just come up with on my own, using a thumb pick for bass notes and strumming with the back of my fingers. Mr. Yokeley told me, “Why, that’s the Arkansaw Brush! My brother used to play that’a way!” We did a lot of playing together at the Banjo Ranch, for a few years, on and off. I felt so fortunate to be directly tapping into this authentic source of American roots music. Plus D.D. was a real character and a lot of fun! We’d play bluegrass, old mountain folk tunes, 1930s swing music, early country ballads, etc. I still have a recording he and I made together of a whole bunch of his repertoire. I also lately came across recordings online of the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs from the ’70s which include performances by Mr. Yokeley, in which you get a good sample of his ol’ time Nawth Ca’lina drawl. I’d sure like to see a film of him performing – don’t know if any exists. Short of that, I still have strong and cherished memories of D.D. Yokeley and his Banjo Ranch. (Plus a fantastic 1955 Gibson J-45 which I got from him in ’66, and will never sell.)

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