On August 4, 1932, Calvin Scott Stoneman was born in Galax, Virginia. He was the tenth child of 23 children of Ernest “Pop” and Hattie Frost Stoneman.
Pop was a multi-instrumentalist who was seemingly good on every instrument he touched. However, he is mainly known for his playing an autoharp, an instrument that he built himself. Hattie played the banjo and fiddle. Music was everywhere in the Stoneman household.
Scotty, as he came to be known, learned to play music from his parents and his older siblings. He quickly became the most prodigious of the all the children. As a child he learned to emulate on the fiddle the sounds of a train and a chicken.
In 1947 the Stoneman Family won a talent contest at Constitution Hall, in Washington D.C., the prize from which included six months’ worth of appearances on local television. Scotty Stoneman’s fiddle was well to the fore at that time.
From the age of 16 he was a regular winner of prestigious fiddle contests, such as Connie B. Gay’s Hillbilly Music Contests based in Warrenton, Virginia. In the process he defeated fiddlers of the calibre of Curly Fox, and his creative prowess earned him the respect of many other musicians with whom he freely associated.
This led to Stoneman, Jack Clement and Buzz Busby venturing to Boston where they worked for Aubrey Mayhew on the Hayloft Jamboree at radio station WCOP. While in New England the trio did some recordings for the Sheraton label. Stoneman befriended the Lilly Brothers also.
Additionally, Stoneman did some session work with Busby, country singer Pete Pike and the young Bill Harrell. He also worked as a sideman with Mac Wiseman, and with Benny and Vallie Cain’s group at about this time.
Late in 1951 Stoneman began four years service in the United States Air Force. Upon his discharge, Stoneman formed the Blue Grass Champs with sister Donna, brother Jimmy, a cousin by marriage and guitarist/singer Jimmy Case.
Later, after a few adjustments to the line-up, including the recruitment of banjo player Porter Church, they became a bluegrass band in style as well as in name. The quintet worked six nights a week at the Famous, a club at the junction of New York Avenue and Twelfth Street, in Washington D.C..
The Blue Grass Champs won the 1956 Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show. The prize was a week’s work as guests on Godfrey’s daily TV variety show. These appearances were extended to a second week.
These network television appearances were a great boost to the Blue Grass Champs career, they were able to increase their fees for playing at the various carnivals and country music parks nearby. The played shows with the likes of Patsy Cline, Grandpa Jones, and Roy Clark, and got multiple regular radio dates.
However, Scotty Stoneman’s drinking of alcohol, which began at about the age of 15, was proving more detrimental than invigorating and all too often he was getting fired from the Blue Grass Champs by the owner of the Famous club.
Nevertheless, the Blue Grass Champs presented a weekly half-hour set of bluegrass and country music on WTTG-TV Channel 5 and on the Don Owens TV Jamboree as well as working in other clubs in Washington D.C..
The Blue Grass Champs did a limited numbers of recordings around this time; in 1957 they cut two sides released on the Bakersfield label. The following year the Stoneman Family – with Scotty singing on one track and playing fiddle – recorded five numbers for Wyncote Records.
During the early months of 1962 the Stoneman Family realised a dream of playing on the Grand Ole Opry and they were a big hit with the live audience, Scotty’s rendition of Orange Blossom Special was the highlight of the brief set and won them an encore.
This led to them recording, in early to mid July 1962, 16 sides for Starday Records; Scotty Stoneman played his own arrangement of Lee Highway Blues (titled Talking Fiddle Blues) for this LP.
As a result of their prominence on television in the east, the Stoneman Family/the Blue Grass Champs – they played dates using both monikers – were lured to Texas to play, but their stay there was very brief and hardly profitable enough considering the distance that they had to travel.
That wasn’t the end of their long-distance travel, however; firstly they went to Nashville to record for Starday; during the session Scotty Stoneman cut what is considered by many to be the ultimate rendition of Orange Blossom Special. Then the group was hired to act as Mac Wiseman’s back-up band for a three week engagement in Las Vegas.
Late in 1963 / early in 1964 the Stoneman Family returned to Texas, spending three months there playing many dates arranged by Jack Clement (now their booking agent), who believed that they could really boost their careers in the Lone Star State.
Clement had similar thoughts about them going to California and in the early spring of 1964, they duly went west. One of their earliest engagements was for the UCLA Folk Festival. Another was for the Monterey Folk Festival.
In April the Stoneman Family recorded an album, Big Ball in Monterey, for World-Pacific Records. The label chose to emphasize Scotty Stoneman’s contributions to the LP. He fiddled and sang on Fire On the Mountain; and did the lead vocals on I Wonder How The Old Folks are at Home, Lost Ball in the High Weeds and Take Me Home; and played banjo on the instrumental Dominique.
A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.
He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.
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