Eddie Pennington is a native of Nortonville, in western Kentucky. His father, a coal miner, played fiddle and exposed him to songs about the hard life of men who labored in the mines. Family members say that Eddie's great-great-grandfather, Edward Alonzo Pennington, was a fiddler who was unfairly convicted of a murder and who played a tune still played today called "Pennington's Farewell" as he sat on his coffin watching the hangman prepare the noose. Pennington didn't follow his dad into the mines but made his living as a funeral director and county coroner. He's now retired.
Nearby Muhlenberg County is known as the birthplace of a complex guitar style called thumb picking. This instrumental technique requires the thumb to keep a regular rolling rhythm while the fingers pick the lead melody. Muhlenberg County was popularized in John Prine's song "Paradise."The county is also associated with guitarist Merle Travis, composer of "Dark as a Dungeon" and "I Am a Pilgrim." Travis, Ike Everly (father of Don and Phil) and Chet Atkins are credited with bringing the thumb-picking style to a national audience.
Pennington began playing the guitar when he was 11. When he was 18, he heard Travis play and decided to devote himself to the thumb-picking style. Pennington also learned thumb picking from his friend Mose Rager of Drakesboro, Kentucky, the guitarist whom Travis credited as a major influence. Merle Travis' brother once said of Pennington, "He plays so much like Merle. If you didn't see them, you wouldn't know who was playing." In performance, Pennington likes to tell humorous stories between songs, tales that often recount the lives and experiences about mining in his western Kentucky homeland. Over the years, he has continued to develop his musical talent, playing both acoustic and arch-top electric guitars, and has won two national championships in his country ragtime style.
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______. "Cincinnati's Appalachian Festival Provides Music, Fun, Food & Folklore." Amusement Business (May 25, 1998) 110, 21: 20.
Eddie Pennington, Arlington, Virginia, 2001, video by Alan Govenar
Eddie Pennington interviewed by Bill Ivey, 2001 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Eddie Pennington answers the question 'How did you get started playing guitar?' Arlington, Virginia, 2001, interview by Alan Govenar