Joseph Emmett Mainer was born July 20, 1898 in Weaversville, (Buncombe County) North Carolina. J.E. Mainer’s first instrument was the banjo, which he played at local dances. Like many others in the rural South, J.E. left home for the hard work and steady paycheck of the textile mills. At first he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee but later moved to Concord, North Carolina where he lived for the rest of his life.
At some point J.E. turned his banjo over to his brother Wade and picked up the fiddle. The brothers recruited a few local musicians and Mainer’s Mountaineers was born. They attracted the attention of the Crazy Water Crystals Company in Charlotte who offered the band a promotional spot on Charlotte’s WBT radio.
Their radio appearances gained them a wide following (WBT was a high power station with a large listening area) and the band was invited to record for the Bluebird label in 1935. Wade left the band in 1936 to form his own band, the Sons of the Mountaineers.
In 1947 J.E. left Bluebird for the new King label where the Mountaineers recorded until 1951 when the band parted ways.
The Mountaineers were rediscovered during the folk revival in 1962 by Chris Strachwitz of the Arhoolie label and, now playing with his sons, enjoyed a second career playing the festival circuit until his death in 1971.
J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers were pioneers of sorts, bridging the period and styles of Old Time and early Bluegrass. Snuffy Jenkins, the Mountaineers banjo player after Wade's departure, was a major influence on a young Earl Scruggs. Ralph Stanley credits J. E. Mainer as a prominent influence on his music.