Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers

Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers

by David W. Johnson
     
 

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Carter and Ralph Stanley--the Stanley Brothers--are comparable to Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs as important members of the earliest generation of bluegrass musicians. In this first biography of the brothers, author David W. Johnson documents that Carter (1925-1966) and Ralph (b. 1927) were equally important contributors to the tradition of old-time country music

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Overview

Carter and Ralph Stanley--the Stanley Brothers--are comparable to Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs as important members of the earliest generation of bluegrass musicians. In this first biography of the brothers, author David W. Johnson documents that Carter (1925-1966) and Ralph (b. 1927) were equally important contributors to the tradition of old-time country music. Together from 1946 to 1966, the Stanley Brothers began their careers performing in the schoolhouses of southwestern Virginia and expanded their popularity to the concert halls of Europe.

In order to re-create this post-World War II journey through the changing landscape of American music, the author interviewed Ralph Stanley, the family of Carter Stanley, former members of the Clinch Mountain Boys, and dozens of musicians and friends who knew the Stanley Brothers as musicians and men. The late Mike Seeger allowed Johnson to use his invaluable 1966 interviews with the brothers. Notable old-time country and bluegrass musicians such as George Shuffler, Lester Woodie, Larry Sparks, and the late Wade Mainer shared their recollections of Carter and Ralph.

Lonesome Melodies begins and ends in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. Carter and Ralph were born there and had an early publicity photograph taken at the Cumberland Gap. In December 1966, pallbearers walked up Smith Ridge to bring Carter to his final resting place. In the intervening years, the brothers performed thousands of in-person and radio shows, recorded hundreds of songs and tunes for half a dozen record labels, and tried to keep pace with changing times while remaining true to the spirit of old-time country music. As a result of their accomplishments, they have become a standard of musical authenticity.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers is an intimate portrait of two brothers who indelibly shaped the bluegrass sound. David Johnson describes Carter and Ralph Stanley's ancestral roots in eighteenth-century Virginia, their endless performances in high school auditoriums, and their radio broadcasts with loving care. This book is a rare, beautiful tale about a distinctly American music that touches the heart."

—William R. Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

"Between 1946 and 1966, Carter and Ralph Stanley helped make bluegrass a vital new American music. In Lonesome Melodies historian David Johnson generously uses the voices of their family, neighbors, band members, and others who knew or met them, while also drawing on a wealth of documentary sources, to write a full and engaging account of their early lives and careers together. The reader meets their father, Lee, witnesses A. P. Carter through the brothers' eyes, learns how their iconic songs were crafted, and much more. I enjoyed reading it and learned from it. It's a must-read for bluegrass music fans."

—Neil V. Rosenberg, author of Bluegrass: A History and Transforming Tradition

Library Journal
This thorough (but not particularly gripping) history from music writer Johnson covers not only legendary bluegrass musicians Carter and Ralph Stanley but also the history and culture of postwar Appalachian America. Johnson interviewed hundreds of musicians and their families in this detailed history. The Stanley Brothers grew up in Dickenson County, VA, where recreation centered around music-making for Saturday evening fun and Sunday morning church. When not working arduous day jobs, amateur musicians traveled from town to town to perform. Phonograph records soon popularized hymns and songs until radio arrived, allowing the Stanleys and others to perform live for thousands of listeners. For over two decades, they traveled and performed throughout Appalachia, Ohio, and the South. Yet by the 1960s, bluegrass festivals, especially the more “country” variations, were declining in popularity. The Stanley Brothers continued to sing, despite Carter’s troubles with alcohol. With extensive notes, a bibliography, and a discography cover hundreds of books, interviews, and recordings.

Verdict Its wide scope makes this title a deserving addition; an essential volume for those studying old-time, bluegrass, and country music roots.—Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781617036477
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
01/24/2013
Series:
American Made Music Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author


David W. Johnson, Stratham, New Hampshire, has written about popular and traditional music for fifty years. His article on the Carter Family was included in Best Music Writing 2004.

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