The Stanley Brothers: Meet Me Tonight
[purchase “on Radio“]
Back in the old days, radio was an important way for old-time and bluegrass musicians to get heard.
Radio provided much needed exposure, publicity and income. Bristol’s WCBY was located on the Tennessee/Virginia state line. Every day around noon, folks would stop whatever they were doing to tune into WCBY’s “Farm and Fun Time” for the latest music and news. The Stanley Brothers first appeared on the show on December 26, 1946. The photo shown here (courtesy of Muleskinner News) shows the band at WCBY about 1948. Ralph and Carter Stanley left Bristol a few times for radio shows in North Carolina, West Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky. However, they always returned to Bristol.
Finances were tight, and it wasn’t easy to make a living as musicians despite successful recordings on the Rich-R-Tone and Columbia labels. In 1951, Carter and Ralph quit the music business to work at Ford Motor Co. in Detroit. It wasn’t long before guitarist Carter was back, singing lead with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Banjo-player Ralph was in a serious auto accident. Ralph (and mandolinist Pee Wee Lambert) built rooms in the old Stanley country store, attended an agricultural course, and had plans to become farmers.
Despite the tough times, The Stanley Brothers were at a peak in their musical career during the mid-1950s. So on March 24, 1956, they accompanied Curley Lambert (mandolin), Ralph Mayo (fiddle) and Larry Ehrlich (recording engineer) to the WCBY studio around midnight to record live around a single mic. At the time, the Clinch Mountain Boys included either Bill Lowe or Doug Morris on bass, but the session took place without a bass-player. There was no audience, no set list, and the session starts with Ehrlich exclaiming, “Let ‘er roll.” What you hear is some of their own personal favorite songs, many their first recorded renditions of them. You get spontaneity, energy, and even a few comments, ambient noises, whoops, hollers and throats clearing. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear a door closing on “Meet Me Tonight.”
It was a sad day when Carter met his untimely death in 1966. Songs on the album “An Evening Long Ago” would be recorded again in later years on fancier equipment. However, the March 1956 WCBY session is simply a rare opportunity to experience the beauty and power of The Stanley Brothers with the Clinch Mountain Boys from a radio station’s studio. The feeling allows us to nostalgically relive a time when their Cadillac traveled circuitous, narrow mountain roads between radio stations, churches, barn dances, and tiny schoolhouse auditoriums. For more music from their actual radio shows, also check out The Stanley Brothers “On Radio” CD put out by Rebel Records.
Guest Post by Joe Ross