Thursday, June 29, 2006

The soul of the Clinch Mountains

Bill Monroe is the acknowledged father of Bluegrass music, but the sound we know as bluegrass today is an aggregation of many different takes on Monroe's creation.

Yesterday's post got me to thinking how Ralph and Carter Stanley helped form the bluegrass sound. Born in the high, remote ridges of Dickenson County, Virginia (Carter in 1925 and Ralph in 1927) their folks moved to the Clinch Mountains of McClure, Virginia where they could make a living farming. Music was always a part of the Stanley home, but the boys didn't play for money until they both returned from stints in the service. After the war they made the move from farming to music. For over a decade in the mid 1940's and '50s they were regulars on WCYB's "Farm and Fun Time" radio show in Bristol, Tennessee. They played the music that they had grown up listening to; the old time Appalachian Mountain music of J.E. and Wade Mainer's Mountaineers and the likes.

Noting the popularity of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, the Stanley brothers incorporated some of Monroe's new "Bluegrass" stylings into their own sound. They bumped up the tempo and Ralph added a few three-finger (Scruggs-style) runs to his old time clawhammer banjo playing, but they remained true to the sounds of their southwestern Virginia home. Carter's simple, but highly emotional lyrics and his strong voice paired with Ralph's high mountain tenor became their trademark.

Nowadays, the folks from the Old Time camp and the folks from the Bluegrass side of the hill don't always see eye-to-eye. The Stanley Brothers were the first to bridge that gap, combining the old time traditional sound with the new Bluegrass stylings.

The brothers played with their Clinch Mountain Boys from 1946 until Carter's death in 1966, with only a short hiatus in the late '50s. Of course Ralph Stanley is still playing and touring today.

I can't think of a better way to kick off the weekend.

Stanley Brothers - How Mountain Girls Can Love.mp3

Stanley Brothers - Gonna Paint The Town.mp3

Both cuts are from the now out-of-print Stanley Series Vol. 3, No. 4 recorded at the New River Bluegrass Festival in 1958. For other early Stanley Brothers recordings try

Y'all have a good weekend!


Anonymous Lucy said...

Yeeeehaawwww!! Great post, Ed. I can't think of a better sound to start a long weekend with (off till the 5th).

Early Happy Independence Day fellow riders. Have a safe one.

June 30, 2006 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your right Lucy I think it would be hard to beat this one, makes me want to go and paint the town
my self. Yall have a good long weekend I am going to get off of the bus and on to the bike for a few
days see you back on 5th


June 30, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Listening to the two Stanleys get to it reminded me of listening to a Sunday morning bluegrass radio show in my buddy's pick-up on a fishing trip earlier this year. I said to my buddy as my toe tapped a hole in his rusting floorboard, "I reckon the reason I like bluegrass music so much now is because it is maybe the only music ever played with the enthusiasm and raw speed good old time punk music was played at. And for some strange reason it is the only music I can listen to without shutting it off when they start in singing about Jesus and shit."

July 02, 2006 8:22 PM  
Blogger countrygrrl said...

these guys are the best...anyone who doesn't agree must have had their ears cut off great blog great post!!!from a wet windy thundery scotland..

July 03, 2006 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


July 07, 2006 7:38 AM  

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