It seemed as if just about everybody wanted to record with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, who died on June 23 at age 89.
His Clinch Mountain Sweethearts album in 2001 included Gillian Welch singing a duet with Stanley on his song Oh Death that won him a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Country Male Vocalist for his part in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack.
That same Sweethearts album also had him singing The Memory of Your Smile with Maria Muldaur, Weeping Willow with Joan Baez, Farther Along with Lucinda Williams and other songs with top female artists.
His 2014 album Ralph Stanley & Friends: Man of Constant Sorrow, sold at Cracker Barrel stores, included I Am the Man, Thomas with Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, Red Wicked Wine with Elvis Costello, Two Coats with Robert Plant and Short Life of Trouble with Old Crow Medicine Show.
And his 1998 Clinch Mountain Country album of duets included Pretty Polly with Patty Loveless, The Window Up Above with George Jones, The Lonesome River with Bob Dylan, Pretty Little Miss in the Garden with Alison Krauss and The White Dove with Porter Wagoner.
But, of course, it was his guitar-playing brother, Carter Stanley, with whom Ralph first started recording duets in 1947. Carter died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1966, which ended the duo known professionally as The Stanley Brothers.
Ralph not only kept alive the great bluegrass songs that Carter had composed such as I’ll Take The Blame, The White Dove and The Lonesome River, but built on that popularity with his band The Clinch Mountain Boys, which was named after the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia near where the Stanleys grew up.
Among the band’s members over the years were future country music stars Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley.
So it was appropriate and sentimental that it was Grand Ole Opry member Skaggs in early 2000 who made the official invitation to Stanley to become a regular cast member.
His unique voice and traditional banjo style made him a stand-out during the 1960s, when bluegrass music groups started being included at folk music festivals.
The brothers got their love of music from their father, who sang in church, and their mother, who played the five-string banjo in claw hammer style.
Ralph went into the U.S. Army for a year in mid-1945 after graduating from high school and served in Germany. He began doing show dates with his brother when released from the Army.
Among his career highlights were being inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame and winning Grammy Awards both as an individual artist and for Album of the Year as a contributor on O Brother, Where Art Thou?
He also received the Living Legend award from the Library of Congress, the Traditional American Music award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Kennedy Center honor.
Many Augusta bluegrass fans got to see Stanley in person at major bluegrass festivals in Ellijay, Jekyll Island and Lavonia, Ga., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and nearby at The Lewis Family’s annual festival near Lincolnton, Ga.
He also performed at the Imperial Theater for the Morris Museum’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul & Song series in 2010.
When he joined the Opry cast, Stanley said, “I’ll carry the name of the Grand Ole Opry everywhere I go. I’ll always respect it, and I’ll never let it down.”
That’s also what his worldwide fans would say; that Stanley never let them down.
GOODBYE TO HERBERT W. BAILEY JR.: If you ever were around Herbert W. Bailey Jr., of Lincolnton, Ga., you probably heard a good story or two. Bailey, who died June 22 at age 58, loved bluegrass music and did a lot to promote bluegrass concerts in this area. He also loved telling stories and frequently opened concerts hosted by Linda and Bill Macky at their North Augusta home. He had retired from being a diesel mechanic and truck driver.
ARCHIE JORDAN REMEMBERS DON MCKINNON: There is no question that Archie Jordan, born in Augusta and reared in Aiken, is one of the best songwriters to come out of this area.
The hits he has composed by himself or with others include Happy Birthday Dear Heartache recorded by Barbara Mandrell, Drifter by Sylvia, It’s All I Can Do by Anne Murray and What A Difference You Made in My Life, It Was Almost Like A Song, Let’s Take The Long Way Around the World, Jesus Is Your Ticket To Heaven and more by Ronnie Milsap.
I’ve known Jordan for more than 40 years but didn’t know until this week that the first professional songwriter he ever met was Don McKinnon of Beech Island, who died June 15 at age 82.
McKinnon wrote songs that were hits by Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Tex Williams and Jim & Jesse McReynolds.
“I was going to Aiken High School and Jerry Reeves booked me to play organ on a recording session in Augusta,” Jordan emailed me. “I forget the artist’s name but the song was 900 Ties (written by McKinnon).
“Don was in the studio and gave us some pointers on cutting the song. I was 16 or 17 at the time, but I remember I thought it was a gorgeous song. Great melody. I believe Joey Martin’s version was my favorite. The song still gets to me.
“A few months ago, I heard Don was in the hospital. I called several hospitals, but he must have already been released. I tried to get a phone number on him, but never could get one.
“I didn’t know anything about all those recordings he had in his career. Thank you for all the work you did to educate us all on his talent and what kind of man he was.”
COLE SWINDELL AT FORT GORDON: Georgia Southern University graduate Cole Swindell, who grew up in Glennville, Ga., near Vidalia, headlines a concert on Thursday, June 30, at Fort Gordon’s Barton Field.
The U.S. Army Signal Corps Band also will perform for the free event taking place from 5 to 11 p.m. and ending with fireworks. There also will be food and crafts vendors.
Swindell is currently on tour with Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots Tour. Swindell’s own Down Home Tour will kick off this fall to coincide with the release of his Down Home Sessions III EP.
His songs include You Should Be Here and his latest release, Middle of a Memory.