Willard Gayheart was born in 1932, in eastern Kentucky in the tiny mountain community of Cordia, not far out of Hazard. His was a rugged and modest upbringing in Depression-era Appalachia. At age 12, Willard was given the job of starting the fires each morning in each of the four potbelly stoves at his school. He had his teacher, Ms. Sloan, save the money he earned and slowly accumulated $3.00, enough to buy a used Montgomery Ward parlor-sized guitar. He spent the summer practicing and got to where he could accompany himself singing, and would perform as a duo with his friend, Elmer Ray Combs, for school functions.