Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sounds of Virginia: Jim & Jesse

For an amazing 55 years, no last name was needed. Mention the names Jim & Jesse to any bluegrass fan and they will most likely begin telling you of the many times they have seen the brother duet at various festivals over the years. When I started attending bluegrass festivals on a regular basis in the 1970s, Jim & Jesse were a major draw and it seemed they were headliners at all of the bigger festivals.
Jim & Jesse McReynolds were raised on a family farm in the small community of Carfax, near Coeburn, Virginia. The steep slopes and dark hollows of Wise County are steeped in traditional mountain music. The McReynolds brothers were immersed in this traditional music from birth. Their grandfather, Charlie McReynolds, was one of the mountain artists recorded during the historic sessions in nearby Bristol in 1927.

Jim & Jesse began playing professionally in 1947. Jim’s high tenor and guitar offset nicely with Jesse’s deep lead and unique mandolin style. Their harmonies were rich and full as is often the case with brother duets. In 1952 they landed their first contract with a major label, Capitol Records. Their first chart-climbing hit came in 1960 with a single released for Columbia. With the success of "The Flame of Love" / "Gosh I Miss You All The Time", Jim & Jesse were invited to replace the Stanley Brothers as hosts the Suwannee River Jamboree on radio station WNER in Live Oak, Florida. The show was syndicated throughout the southeast and Jim & Jesse became household names in the South.

Their band, the Virginia Boys, was always made up of some top notch musicians. For a short period fiddle great Vassar Clements was a member of the Virginia Boys. Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys toured extensively, including a world tour in the mid 1980s. As I mentioned above, they were very popular on the festival circuit, often headlining bigger festivals.

Of all the labels that they recorded for, including Capitol , Columbia, Epic, Opryland, CMH, and Rounder, I have always preferred the albums they released under their own Old Dominion label.

Tragically, both brothers were diagnosed with different types of cancer in 2002. Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002, ending the longest active professional brother duet in country music history. Jesse has continued to tour with the Virginia Boys.

Jim & Jesse - Cotton Mill Man.mp3

Jim & Jesse - When The Wagon Was New.mp3

Jim & Jesse - Diesel Train.mp3


Anonymous matt said...

Thanks for some excellent music.Over the last few months you have broadened my horizons,and I have never had to leave my front room.

Best Wishes Matt

November 15, 2007 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Did Jim & Jesse ever do a really slow song? Even when the melody seems a lament, the picking seems to cook.

November 15, 2007 8:08 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Matt, Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying the ride, but you will eventually have to leave the front room, If only to pour yourself another glassful.

November 15, 2007 9:41 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Dan, Jim & Jesse did (and Jesse still does) some great slower songs, but you are right, even on the slower tunes the instrumentation is cooking. I suppose that was part of the draw to seeing them at as many festivals as I could get to. When Jesse cuts loose on his mandolin the stage really heats up!

November 15, 2007 9:44 PM  

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