“I let my fingers do the walking and the strings do the talking.”

Leo ‘Bud’ Welch: When I’d be playing, I be playing from my heart — not from my skin, or from my body, but from my heart. I don’t think there’s nothing more joyful in the world than music. I feel like I’m giving somebody some good information and everything. Make somebody feel like they wonna feel. If you’re like me, music will make me feel good. I feel good doing it. Makes you pat your feet. It makes you happy.

My music, I love doing it and I’ve been playing the guitar since I was about 15. I just love the kind of music it made and I always got a motto: I let my fingers do the walking and the strings do the talking. I’m gonna let them walk up and down the strings and I am gonna sing outta my mouth.

I wrote a few songs — two or three — but I’d be listening to the others guys, but I don’t sing ’em exactly like they do. I modifies it my way — the Leo ‘Bud’ Welch way. I don’t try to do songs just like B.B. King. It wouldn’t never be no me, I’m just mocking B.B. King, or Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or some of those guys. I don’t want to be mocking. Later on, down through the years to come, I hope somebody be mocking me.

The Blues came out the hills went to the Delta. I tell people they roll off the hills over into the Delta. They get more popularity in the Delta now. People are listening to you better in the Delta than they will in these hills.

In the country you can just holler at night as loud as you want all night long, but in town they want you to cut your music down. I really don’t like it too loud. I like to be mellow, where you can understand it and hear it.

Leo ‘Bud’ Welch released his first album when he was 81 years old. He had been a Gospel singer since his teens, but one day Welch told his preacher he was going to start singing the blues, the man replied, “I don’t prefer no blues.” Welch said he did, and that name became his second album. Welch worked in lumber mills and logging and has lived all his life in Calhoun, Mississippi. Today, he lives in a one-room frame house with five guitars, all of which were missing the 6th string on the day of our visit. Welch turns 85 on March 22, 2017 and has concerts scheduled in Mississippi and New York this spring.

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In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu.