This remembrance of Frank Necessary is a contribution from Jay Armsworthy, an avid promoter of bluegrass in Maryland and the District of Columbia, who performs with his group, Eastern Tradition.
Frank Marion Necessary
Born: December 20, 1935 – Boone’s Camp, Kentucky
One of the first generation banjo players and also a Don Reno stylist, Frank Necessary passed away peacefully on Thursday December 15 at his home in Ruckersville, Virginia, at the age of 75.
Highly under-rated for his banjo talents, Frank Necessary has been leader or co-leader of some fine bluegrass bands over the years. In the late 1960s, he led the Stone Mountain Boys, who worked out of Ashland, Ohio, at the Wheeling Jamboree, and appeared at festivals throughout the Midwest.
A native of the same portion of Appalachian Kentucky that produced superstar songstress Loretta Lynn, Frank grew up as the youngest member of a large family with musical interests. He learned his first guitar chords at the age of 7. However, Frank never really got serious about music until he was doing Air Force duty in Germany in the late 1950s. A friend named Fred Smith urged him to learn banjo and they organized a bluegrass band called the Dixie Ramblers that worked NCO service clubs and had a program on the local AFR station.
After returning to the U.S., Frank worked with a Country band or two, getting back to bluegrass with a band called the Wichita Mountain Boys. By the mid-1960s, he found himself in the Baltimore / Washington area working in a variety of bands including those of Buzz Busby and Patsy Stoneman. From 1966 – 1968, Necessary played mostly with a band called the Spruce Mountain Boys led by the high lonesome vocalist from White Top, Virginia, named Al Jones (b. 1932). This group cut a pair of singles on Rebel.
In 1968, Frank moved to Ashland, Ohio, where he joined forces with the Stone Mountain Boys. For half-dozen years this band worked at the WWVA Jamboree, Wheeling, and played bluegrass festivals throughout the Midwest. The Stone Mountain Boys built their sound largely around Frank’s varied talent, but also boasted the skills of Donald Highman (b. 1933), a lead singing guitarist, and Bill Highman (b. 1935), a tenor vocalist and mandolin picker. Leslie Fieber (b. 1946) on electric bass rounded out the group. Their style could best be described as somewhat reminiscent of the Osborne Brothers whose membership also included Troy Bailey and Larry Fowler. During their years together, Frank and the boys recorded respective albums for Cabut, Arby and Old Homestead. They had an additional single on Cabut and reportedly cut sufficient material for an album on Jalyn, although some singles were never released.
In 1974, Frank Necessary returned to the Baltimore / Washington area, where he and Al Jones became co-leaders of the Spruce Mountain Boys. They played clubs and some festivals in the region. He and Al Jones cut one of the best, well-produced bluegrass albums that Rounder ever released. Later Buzz Busby came into their group for a while, during which time they cut an album for Old Homestead. In their later years, they continued to work in the D.C. and surrounding areas.
Frank will be laid to rest in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where he had made his residence most of his life.
I grew up in St. Mary’s County, Maryland where I knew Frank through my Mom and Dad, who used to go out and see him play at the different bars in the area. As I got older and learned to play the guitar, he would let me get on stage with him and play and one time I thought about learning the banjo and he gave me a couple of lessons. But I stayed with what I knew best, which was the guitar.
In 1995, I recorded my first CD, Just Lookin’ For Fun and wanted to do an old Don Reno song titled, Since Wedding Bells Have Rung and asked Frank to play the Reno style of banjo playing on it and sing tenor. He did and I’m glad he did. It turned out to be the best song on the CD.
I always wanted to record a tribute album to Don Reno and Red Smiley with Frank. We talked about it many times but just never got to doing it. I wish we had done it.
Frank paid his dues in the music business and I felt was well underrated. There are not too many banjo players out there that can play the Don Reno style of banjo playing and Frank did it well.
Frank Necessary and the Stone Mountain Boys:
No More Tomorrows (Cabut)(1970)
The Ballad of Penny Dollar (Arby)(1972)
Cimarron Bluegrass (Old Homestead)(1973)
The Spruce Mountain Boys:
Al Jones, Frank Necessary & the Spruce Mountain Boys (Rounder)(1976)
Frank Necessary, Al Jones, and Buzz Busby (Old Homestead)(1987)