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Beckley guitarist and singer Roy Harvey, in about 1930.
Beckley guitarist and singer Roy Harvey, in about 1930.

“Daddy Loved Music”

Recalling Guitarist Roy Harvey

By Matt Meacham


West Virginia has been home to some of the most remarkable musicians in the country, some quite rustic in their style, others thoroughly modern. Pioneering guitarist Roy Harvey fits into this latter group, though “modern” in his case took place more than 70 years ago. Those years seem short, however, to daughter Louise Johnson of Beckley, who recalls her father, his music, and those times clearly.

Louise Johnson’s memories of Roy Harvey are situated amid middle class life in the bustling commercial centers of Princeton and Beckley, at the height of the southern West Virginia coal boom and the advent of the recording industry. After living elsewhere for most of her adult life, Louise returned to Beckley in July 2005 and has taken advantage of the opportunity to research her father’s career and to reacquaint herself with people and places connected with it.

“I’d been gone from Beckley for 63 years,” Louise says. “My father moved us to Florida when I was 14. He took a job on the railroad down there.”

She returned to Beckley following her marriage to fellow Beckley native Bob Johnson. “We were childhood sweethearts together and engaged as teenagers,” she explains. “When he came to Florida to get me, my mother [Cleo Harvey] said, ‘You’re never going back to West Virginia — no! You’re not going to marry that Johnson boy.’ So, she put her foot down, and I didn’t marry Bob. I went my way and he went his for 57 years. And then we got together, and here we are, back in our hometown.”

Roy Harvey was born in 1892 near Greenville, Monroe County. Harvey rarely discussed his initial musical development, and Louise is not certain exactly who or what inspired her father to take up the guitar or how he began to master the instrument.



You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.