Meet Zeke

Sam Meek and his wife Barbara Saba, also a talented performer, created Zeke’s Guitars & Mercantile LLC in memory and honor of Sam's grandfather, Zeke. Sam remains profoundly inspired by his grandfather’s appreciation of instruments, love of playing music, and work ethic. The memories they made together continue to guide Sam and Barbara today. Barbara’s work ethic is on the level with Zeke’s, and even though she never have the pleasure to meet him in person, all agree that she and Zeke would have clicked immediately and the pleasure would have certainly been his as well.

Claude Paynter, AKA "Zeke"

Zeke was born Claude Jackson Paynter on his family’s tobacco farm. His unique and inspiring journey would lead him to become a farmer, a soldier, a salesman, a father, and eventually a grandfather who answered to "Papa."

No one in the family really knows the origins of Claude's name and/or radio personality “Zeke.”

Sam, having done quite a bit of livestock and tobacco farm work while growing up in rural NC, thinks perhaps it just came out of the deep thoughts one can find themselves lost in when farming tobacco. There are often many hours spent in solitude doing back-breaking work or plowing row after row. Walking the fields alone, the mind wanders and finds streams of creativity.

The Sun On His Shoulders and a Tune In His Heart

Claude Paynter lived his life dedicated to honest work, family, and music. Born to Claudie and Rosa Paynter in 1927, he farmed the brown clay soil of the rural North Carolina piedmont like his father, and his father’s father, and his father, too.

No one knows why the army allowed it, but at the age of 17, Claude was sent to Europe to help the allies wrap up the loose ends of World War II. He served from 1945 to 1947, spending most of his time in Italy. During his time in the army, he formed and played with a band of brothers from the 88th Division “The Blue Devils,” also called “The Blue Devil Pals.”

Blue Devil and Pals

In 1948, after returning stateside, Claude began playing weekly on the local radio station as the front man of Zeke & The Warren County Ramblers. This weekly show consisted of live music performances and a generous dose of humor. Zeke was known to be quite the character who loved to entertain and could always get a laugh. It seemed that he particularly enjoyed being live on the air and reading the song requests mailed to the station by local listeners.

During his first year on the radio, he met the love of his life, Evelyn, who became his bride in 1948. Evelyn and Claude made their lives on a tabbacco farm, raising three children, sending all of them to college, and lived out the rest of their days growing vegetables and playing tunes.

Farming was a way of life, even though both Zeke and Evelyn would end up working outside jobs to supplement the income they made farming tobacco. By 1962, they stopped farming full time. Evelyn worked day shift at a local shirt factory where she’d later retire as a supervisor, and Zeke sold life insurance. The farm remains in the family today.

If the grandkids behaved and the mood struck, Papa would pull out one of his prized possessions. It could be his old fiddle (not a “violin” in that house) that he acquired while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe just after World War II, his old banjo, his Martin D-18, or his Martin mandolin. Stories and songs often followed.
Sam favored his Papa’s D-18, and he grew up to become an accomplished guitarist himself.

Zeke’s career on the radio ran for decades. He played weekly live performances on WHNC from 1949 into the 1960s, and on WPTM in the 1970s and 1980s. He also played regional dance halls and private parties. During his musical journey, he played with several well-known regional players, including Curtis Lee on the fiddle, and Wade Dickens on the banjo.

Above all else, Zeke was a creative soul.