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Bill Moore remains true to the energy and history of local music traditions

20240217_cox_lifestyle-bill-moore-in-his-own-words
UNC sophomore and guitarist Bill Moore performs during his Editors' Notes set in the Daily Tar Heel office on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

UNC sophomore and guitarist Bill Moore fell down the rabbit hole of American roots music when he found the lyrics of Olde English folk songs in familiar bluegrass and Bob Dylan tunes. 

“I just kind of wondered: ‘How is this possible?’” he said.

Exploring that history and cultural exchange led him to where he is now: playing the swing, jazz and blues guitar styles you would likely hear in the streets and warehouses of the N.C. Piedmont region a century ago — with allowance for personal style, of course. 

But for Moore, whose debut album “New Piedmont Style” released this month, this is just what music is supposed to sound like. 

The subject matter of the album’s songs, like “Durham Women” or “Hillsborough,” is hyper-local to Moore's native Chapel Hill. He is inspired to write about the landscape around him by what he calls “cowboy songwriters,” who wrote about the West with intense poetry. 

When he wrote “Hillsborough,” Moore worked for the Music Maker Foundation — which financially supports blues and roots musicians. The foundation also provided the field recording equipment Moore needed to record his album, which took only a few hours in a small studio under an HVAC repair shop. 

In his twice weekly drives to Hillsborough for work with Music Maker, Moore came up with the main hook: “It’s good to be back in Hillsborough” and built from there.

Shouting out locations in songs, Moore said, is a tradition in the style he most identifies with: the Piedmont blues. 

The Piedmont blues — popularized in the Triangle during the early 20th century by Black working class musicians — is primarily dance music, utilizing Ragtime’s rhythms and major chords. The music was the soundtrack to tobacco auctions and Black social life in Durham between the world wars.

After playing guitar for 10 years, Moore found some of his biggest influences within the style, like Reverend Gary Davis and Blind Boy Fuller. Both once lived in Durham, right down the road from him, decades before.

Moore said he tries to remain faithful to the genre's energy and combine it with other styles, but also looks for the things that connect him honestly with the music, without co-opting the style from Black musicians.

“You have to acknowledge that there are several different influences to this music, but also whitewashing this kind of music is exactly the opposite of what I want to be doing,” he said. “If you want people to know about this music, and you want to educate them, you don’t want them to come away with a false impression about it.” 

Moore played gigs around Chapel Hill in Southern Village and at Lapin Bleu. In January, he performed solo at a student multimedia mixer, which he was particularly nervous for, but Moore said the audience received the music like they had never heard anything like it. 

“That kind of thing always makes someone who plays ‘dead music’ feel really happy because it’s not that it’s not applicable, it’s just that people don’t know about it anymore,” he said.

He tries to practice three hours every day for guitar, voice and banjo, which he is learning to play for the Carolina Bluegrass Band.  

“If you’re playing at the level of a lot of the original players, you have to really play all the time,” Moore said.

Some days, he said that it can feel like all he does is sleep, go to class, practice, eat and work on the Weekly Weirdo — a humor magazine he and his roommate started this year — and repeat. 

Part of Moore’s mission is keeping the genre alive, whether as a professional musician or as a historian and supporter. Whatever he does, he wants to make a living off of music, he said, and now is the time to start building the foundation. 

@emimaerz

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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Emi Maerz

Emi Maerz is a 2023-24 assistant lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously covered UNC for the university desk. Emi is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and dramatic art.