Earl Webster of The Webster Brothers remembered 

Earl Webster, of the Webster brothers’ duet, passed away on April 24, 2018, of natural causes. He was 85 years of age. 

William Earl Webster, born on March 4, 1933, in Philadelphia, Tennessee, was the guitar player and lead singer in one of the classic brother-duet acts; with James Austin ‘Audie’ Webster, who played mandolin and sang tenor. The duo featured in a Gospel act, Four Brothers Quartet, with siblings Horace (baritone) and Ed (bass) also.

Sadly, they are largely ignored or, at least, have been long forgotten.

Earl Webster was brought up in a musical family and from an early age Earl and Audie wanted to sing and play, and they did so firstly in church before going on to country music. While teenagers they worked at the local movie house in Sweetwater, Tennessee, performing as the prelude to the film, and again during the intermission. 

While in the Four Brothers Quartet, Earl Webster was featured on Radio WLAR in Athens and on Lenoir’s Radio WLIL (both in Tennessee). 

In 1951 Earl and Audie auditioned for Cas Walker in Knoxville and were recruited by him and later appeared on WKXV, WROL and afterwards, on WIVK. 

Another boost came with them meeting Carl Butler, then a Columbia recording artist and as the friendship blossomed, they were signed to Okeh, a subsidiary label to Columbia Records, on Butler’s recommendation. 

On March 23, 1954, the duo recorded four numbers, two secular and two Gospel songs, each paired up and released on two singles. One cut, Till the End of The World Rolls ‘Round, actually preceded the Flatt and Scruggs version. 

In the fall of that same year they recorded six more sides, one of which was a superb rendition of Seven Year Blues, b/w Road Of Broken Hearts (actually released with the Columbia label) and another four, Looking Through the Windows of Heaven; Angel Band; Hallelujah, We Shall Rise and Walkin’ In God’s Sunshine, that featured lead vocals by Butler. 

Seven Year Blues

During the following November the Webster Brothers assisted Carl Butler in the recording of four additional songs with two singles released by Columbia. 

After a very brief break, the two brothers could be heard once more on radio, hired by Lowell Blanchard to play  on the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round on WNOX; then on Cas Walker’s Farm and Home Hour on WIVK Radio; on WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance, Richmond, Virginia; with Carl Butler on the Grand Ole Opry; and other radio shows in Tennessee and in Georgia. 

During 1957 the duo accompanied Butler making several guest appearances on the World’s Original Jamboree on WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia. 

Also, they backed Dolly Parton when she appeared on the Farm and Home Hour show. 

In 1958 Earl and Audie Webster revived the Four Brothers Quartet, joining forces with two other brothers, Willie G and Bud Brewster, working on radio and TV for Cas Walker. Later, they recorded Cross Over Jordan, which was one side of a Starday single released as by the Brewster Bros. and Four Brothers Quartet. 

During the following year the quartet recorded (I’ll Be) Happy in My Home and What A Wonderful Savior, paired on an Acme single.

Later, Earl and Audie Webster teamed up with fiddler Ralph Mayo (fiddle) and Ray Kirkland (banjo), worked on radio and TV in Dothan, Alabama, to where the brothers had re-located; in Pensacola, Tallahassee and Panama City, Florida; and in Albany and Valdosta, Georgia.

Early in 1962 the Webster Brothers recorded 13 songs at the WBIR TV Studio in Knoxville, Tennessee. These were heard by record producer Murray Nash and four songs, Forgive Me Lord, I’ll Make it Through, My God’s Everywhere and Thank God for the U.S.A., were released by him on an EP (I.H.S. 202) in August of that same year. Two of those recordings, Thank God for the U.S.A. b/w My God’s Everywhere were also issued on an I.H.S. single, #601, during the following year. 

In March 1964, two other songs from the WBIR recordings, Memory Waltz b/w a modern bluegrass song, My Heart Won’t Let Me Forget, were released on a single, on the Nashville Do-Ra-Me label (# 1439). 

The remainder were not released until 2003 when 10 tracks were made available on a various-artists’ set, Nashville Bluegrass, Stomper Time [UK] STCD 18.

Till Death Do Us Part, from the 1962 session at the WBIR TV Studio, was among those that were originally unissued ……. 

In the summer of 1967, after another brief break, the brothers recorded the ballad Blue, Blue’s In Green released, b/w Slighty Used Engagement Ring, on K-Ark, being identified simply as Earl & Audie (the Webster Brothers).

After his brother retired from music, Earl Webster recorded for the last time, cutting two sides, Dusty Roads and Model A’s / Alabama, released in 1974 on his own Golden Crust label (#4224). 

Influenced by the Louvin Brothers, often overshadowed by the Brewster Brothers and competing with the dominance of rock ’n’ roll music, Earl and Audie Webster were not able to sustain a music career much beyond the mid-1960s. 

The Webster Brothers deserve to be remembered. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. 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.