Today, July 9, 2019, mandolin artist and long-term member of the venerable Grand Ole Opry cast, Jesse McReynolds, celebrates his 90th birthday.
Although he is a talented lead guitarist and fiddle player, he is best known for his innovative cross-picking and split-string styles of mandolin playing.
He and his brother Jim began performing together in or around 1947, originally with the name The McReynolds Brothers.
Alongside Jim, he recorded more than 50 albums, featuring one of the smoothest and most influential vocal duets in bluegrass music. These recording can be found on the Capitol, Columbia, Epic, Opryland, CMH, Rounder, and their own Old Dominion, among other labels.
Jesse McReynolds has solo releases before and since his brother’s passing; these have been on J & J Music / Double J, Atteiram, OMS, and Pinecastle.
During their career they had toured all 50 states, with the exception of Alaska, and have travelled worldwide including destinations in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Europe, the British Isles, and, in 1985, they visited Africa for the U.S. State Department. Among the notable venues that they played are the Newport Jazz Festival, Smithsonian Institution Folk Life Festival, Great Lakes Folk Festival, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and the American Folk Festival.
Their numerous honors include induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Walkway of Stars; the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame; IBMA’s Hall of Honor (now the Hall of Fame) (in 1993); and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Also, they received the National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, presented by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jane Alexander at the White House, September 23, 1997.
Individually and together they earned many Grammy nominations, including one for their 1991 album Music Among Friends (Rounder Records). Jesse McReynolds has received four nominations for work with other artists.
Following Jim’s death in 2002, Jesse carried on the McReynolds tradition touring with his band, the Virginia Boys, playing festivals and concerts across the country. Jesse has remained active as singer, instrumentalist and bandleader.
For a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, McReynolds toured and recorded with banjoist Eddie Adcock, fiddler Kenny Baker, and Dobro player Josh Graves, as part of the supergroup, The Masters.
Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza, recorded with David Grisman, Bobby Osborne, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, and other top mandolin super-pickers, won double IBMA awards in 2000 for Best Instrumental Recording and Special Recorded Event of the Year.
In 2005 Jesse McReynolds earned another IBMA nomination, this time for Instrumental Recording of the Year for his project of mostly original tunes, Bending the Rules.
Jim & Jesse joined the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1964, and Jesse is still a quite regular performer on the show.
A selection of people from the family, former and current band members have shared some thoughts, anecdotes and greetings.
Luke McKnight, Jesse’s grandson, played with the Virginia Boys from 1995 till 2010. He is featured on four Jesse McReynolds’ recordings between those years …
“De-Daddy…..The 15 years I spent on the road with you playing music was the best years I could have asked for….being a Virginia Boy was something that I will always cherish and be proud of…..I’m a better person because of Jim & Jesse…..Happy Birthday….I love you.”
Travis Wetzel is featured on Bending the Rules and Dixie Road, while McReynolds played on a couple of Wetzel’s albums; Take My Spirit to the Wind and Inspirations ….
“I am very grateful to Jesse McReynolds for being a huge part of my life and wonderful friend since I was a boy.”
Wetzel’s mother Donna adds ….
“God Bless you, Jesse, for giving Travis an opportunity in Nashville.”
Charles Whitstein, along with his brother Robert, owe a lot to Jesse McReynolds for his considerable help in taking the brothers’ career to a significantly new level. Charles Whitstein is featured on Jesse McReynolds New Horizons CD …….
“My love and appreciation for Jesse McReynolds’ music and friendship goes back decades.
Jesse was like a music mentor to The Whitstein Brothers and actually hand-delivered a demo tape of our music to Ken Irwin at Rounder Records, who signed us to the label — after which, Jesse was at almost every one of our recording sessions, lending his advice and support.
My experiences with Jesse McReynolds go beyond my imagination. I’ve had the honor of doing some recordings with him, including A Tribute To Brother Duets album — and the privilege of traveling around the country, standing beside this humble legend, playing guitar and singing tenor.
I came to realize just how very talented and creative he really is, as a musician, singer and song writer.
Thank you Jess for your contributions to the world of great music — And for being my good friend!
HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY.”
This Charles Whitstein and Jesse McReynolds version of Hugh Moffatt’s Rose of My Heart is a track from the A Tribute To Brother Duets album …..
Martino Coppo, of Red Wine, sends best wishes from Italy …..
“To have a legend like Jesse singin’ harmony to me was pure magic: I thought I was dreaming and for few seconds I imagine what Jim felt over all those years of such beautiful singin’ together.
I have never been able to play a decent cross picking style on mandolin, but I have always admired master pioneers like Jesse who have set a new and different path for generations of pickers to follow.
Thanks Jesse, for all these and many, many, warm greetings for a wonderful Happy Birthday!”
As Jesse said, Gospel songs were oft-requested parts of Jim & Jesse shows – Walking My Lord up Calvary’s Hill (1976) …
Carl Jackson joined the Virginia Boys in 1967 ….
“When Jim & Jesse hired me as their banjo player and officially made me a Virginia Boy fifty some odd years ago, it placed me on a career path that has been blessed beyond belief. They were certainly bluegrass music icons, but they were also something much more than that… they were truly good men. My Mom and Dad recognized that in them and knew beyond any shadow of doubt that not only was their fourteen-year-old son getting a huge musical break, but that he also would be well taken care of after that bus drove away. Mama and Daddy were right and although I can still see them and my sister waving goodbye, I knew then and know now that God placed me right where He meant for me to be.
Happy 90th birthday, Jesse! You are a legend, dear friend, who created not one, but two styles of mandolin playing that are rarely even attempted by anyone else. You and your dear brother, Jim, made such a difference in my life and for that I am forever grateful.“
Recorded circa April 1972 this instrumental version of The Monkeys’ Last Train to Clarksville features Jesse McReynolds, Carl Jackson and Vassar Clements ….
Mike Scott, who has been a professional entertainer for over 45 years, was inspired by Jim & Jesse at an early age …..
“It would be difficult to say how much inspiration Jesse McReynolds has been to me through all these years. To share Jesse’s memory, I also have to include Jim. I first met Jim & Jesse McReynolds and The Virginia Boys when I started playing the banjo. Shortly after receiving my first banjo December 1972 at 10 years old, my Mom and Dad took me to their shows as a kid to various bluegrass festivals and concerts. I was drawn to their music and harmonies, especially Jesse’s creativity in instrumentals, song writing, etc. I was so inspired that at 10 and 12 years old I traded for their LPs at my elementary school when you could trade with pocket-knives and save your daily lunch money for old bluegrass records you got from your classmates. Those parents are still looking for their old Jim & Jesse records. I still have them.
I eventually was offered a job with them when I was fifteen, about 1977, after they had heard me perform. It didn’t work out at that time for me to go on the road, as my being under-age, but it did later after I graduated high school. I came to work for them in February 1983 for nearly four years… until the end of 1986. These were some of the best times in my life, performing in nearly every state in the US, tours throughout Europe, Canada and South Africa. Between 240-260 play dates per year, including TNN, CMT, PBS European TV, Nashville Now, New Country, Austin City Limits, and of course…The Grand Ole Opry. We travelled and performed…least to say… extremely heavy.
This being said, and all these many years later, you really get to know someone, especially when you are on the road with them this much. Jim and Jesse were true Gentlemen and even as we have lost Jim on December 31, 2002….I will never forget how they played a vital part in my musical career here in Nashville and have been mentors to me even after all these years.
Jesse continues to do that even today. I look at all the time I have been fortunate enough to have performed professionally and spent time personally with Jesse. Thank you, Jesse, for being a continued inspiration to me. For the past nearly four months, we have been able to attend a men’s Saturday morning Christian Bible Study here in Gallatin, TN, and it has been awesome! I look forward to so many more.
I want to wish you a Blessed Happy 90th Birthday and so many more from my wife Brenda and I… as well as I want you to remind you of all the many people all over the world who admire you for your talents and being the great man you are. You are a great man and mentor to me!
Thank you so much!
Happy Birthday Jesse!”
A young Mike Scott sings lead for Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys on this rendition of A Beautiful Life on the TV show Fire on the Mountain…..
Mike Drudge played guitar on I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing and played bass on Introduces the Mandolobro …….
“I went to work for Jim & Jesse in 1989 and worked for them for nearly four years – started out on guitar, singing the third part in the trio, and then about six months later switched to bass during the time that Jesse’s son Keith was starting to have health issues. I learned the art of booking from Jim McReynolds. On the road, Jesse was the musical glue that held it all together.
Jesse was and still is a class act in every sense. A stylistic pioneer on the mandolin that no one has been able to duplicate (mostly because they can’t) and one of bluegrass music’s great lead singers. Jim and Jesse trading leads on Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes will forever be considered one of the classic sounds of bluegrass.
Besides being an incredible musical talent, Jesse has always been friendly, approachable, and generous. It’s rewarding when you meet one of your musical heroes and they turn out to be as nice as you hoped they would be. And in Jesse’s case, that rings true. A class act for sure.”
Drudge (playing guitar), along with Jimmy Campbell, Vic Jordan, and Keith McReynolds, is featured on this rendition of Dream of Me, a recording of which was released by Vern Gosdin in 1981 (Ovation Records) …
Lauren Price Napier of The Price Sisters, one group that definite honors the roots of bluegrass music, began playing mandolin around the age of nine …….
“The first time I saw Jesse was in 2010 when I was a student at August Bluegrass Week in Elkins, West Virginia, for the first time. Just shy of 16 years old, it was really my first exposure to the world of bluegrass music. I didn’t know much about bluegrass specifically, but I had taken mandolin lessons, an instrument that was better recognized as a bluegrass music instrument.
Jesse was Augusta’s special guest Master Artist for that year, which meant he came to the camp for one day out of the week, gave a little demonstration/workshop for the entire camp audience, and then was featured in the week’s all-star staff concert that evening. To be honest, I really didn’t even know who Jim & Jesse were, only having heard a cut or two of theirs on a 20 greatest country hits album or something like that as a kid. But seeing Jesse with his mandolin interested me. He played El Cumbanchero and Okeechobee Wind, and I was completely impressed.
I went up to Jesse after he played and got to meet him, and I believe my parents bought me a DVD copy he had with him of an older Jim & Jesse show taping. Our meeting then was no longer than a quick conversation, but he was friendly and approachable, especially for me who at the time was a young, fairly inexperienced and pretty shy teenage musician.
I ran into Jesse briefly a few years ago at IBMA one evening while heading down a hallway with my now husband, mandolinist Scott Napier. Jesse said ‘hi’ to us both and played around a bit on Scott’s 1939 Gibson F5 mandolin. I doubt Jesse recognized me from our meeting several years prior, but he was still just as humble and friendly.
Just last week Scott, my sister, and I were invited to Jesse’s 90th birthday party at the home of Mike and Brenda Scott in Gallatin, Tennessee. Jesse played several original tunes with the party’s house band, before all mandolin players in attendance were asked to join the group and pick together. Getting to be a part of that evening was very special.
For being such a legend in this music, Jesse’s kindness, enthusiasm to play, and creative drive have always stood out to me.
Here’s wishing him the happiest 90th birthday, and a thanks for all the inspiration he’s shared to myself and countless others over the years!”
As further exemplified by the addition of Rafael Hernandez’s El Cumbanchero to their repertoire, Jim & Jesse were constantly adventurous in sourcing new material to perform and record ….
Casey Campbell is another young, thrusting mandolin picker ….
“I’ve been lucky enough to know Jesse since before I was born! It’d be a fool’s errand to try to put into words how vital his mandolin playing and singing have been to the bluegrass world and beyond, so I’ll let some other fool do that. I’ll just say that if ever there were a Mandolin Mount Rushmore, Jesse’s face (and perfectly coiffed jet-black hair) would be included.
If you’re reading this right now and haven’t heard Jesse’s Mandolin Workshop (Hilltop HT-202), or his recent reissue of Jesse McReynolds Introduces the Mandolobro (JM-CD01), you owe it to yourself to take a listen.
He has always been so kind and encouraging to me, always asking what tunes I’m working on and eager to share the tunes he has been working on lately. I’ll forever cherish the times spent sitting backstage at the Grand Ole Opry or in his bus parked in the yard pickin’ mandolin tunes and trying to figure how in the world he makes that split-string and cross-picking work.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with as much well-deserved clout and selfless humility than Jesse. A true mentor in music and life.
Happy Birthday, Jesse! At the rate you’re going, I just hope to make it to half your age! I hope you can take the Border Ride over Stoney Creek and end up at a Dixie Hoedown with a birthday Cakewalk!”
Daniel Grindstaff, a co-founder of the group Merle Monroe, played with Jesse McReynolds for about four years ….
“As I look back over my years playing music, I will always say I was blessed to start out on top. My professional career began at the age of 18 with Bluegrass Royalty, Jim and Jesse McReynolds. I was with Jim and Jesse as a Virginia Boy the last year Jim was with us and continued with Jesse for around three years after Jim passed. There is no one that I know of more of a musical genius and innovator than Jesse McReynolds. I learned more about music from my time there than I could ever repay. More so than that Jesse was always kind, delightful and the example of someone who never quits working on their craft. I am blessed to know Jesse and to have shared the stage with such a man and legendary musician.
Jesse- I love you and thank you for taking a chance on an 18-year-old kid and making my musical dreams come true, may you have the happiest of birthdays and many more!”
This video of Jim & Jesse & The Virginia Boys singing I Heard the Bluebird Sing was recorded during the Easter weekend April 1983, at Wembley Arena, London, England (I know, ‘cause I was there)…….
Ashley Lewis began singing and performing at the age of seven in her family band …….
“Jesse is a true treasure! When I was just a little girl my mom took me to see Jesse perform at a festival at Pontiac in my home state of Illinois. I bought his latest CD, he autographed it for me and took a picture with me, that I still have today. As a mandolin player myself, it really inspired me, watching his unique style, and also that he took the time to talk with me. Just a few years ago, I watched him perform on the Grand Ol Opry, and thought to myself, this is what a living legend looks like…”
As requested, Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes from 1976 ….
Corrina Rose Logston and Jeremy Stephens, when available, have continued to play with Jesse McReynolds at the same time as in their own group High Fidelity ….
“What an honor and blessed privilege it has been to be able to call ourselves Virginia Boys for the last three years! Aside from being one of the greatest mandolinists of all time and an amazing vocalist, Jesse is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and exceedingly considerate people we’ve met in the music business.
Here’s to a Happy and Blessed 90th Birthday to our friend and hero Jesse McReynolds!! We pray the Lord’s blessing for many more to come!”
Matthew Madden, from Olive Hill Kentucky, has often played upright bass with Jesse McReynolds in recent years …..
“Jesse McReynolds has a broad influence across many genres of music, from influencing George Shuffler’s guitar playing while he worked with Jim and Jesse, to recording one, if not the first, concept albums Berry Pickin’ in the Country. Also breaking barriers and recording with Jim Morrison and the Doors in 1969 on their The Soft Parade album.
I’ll always be indebted to Jesse for allowing me to work as a Virginia Boy, on many stages, especially WSM’s Grand Ole Opry.”
Johnny B. Goode is one track on Berry Pickin’ in the Country, featuring Allen Shelton and Jim Buchanan (Epic Records 1965) …
Over in California, Roland White was very much aware of his mandolin-playing colleague …..
“Jesse’s playing caught my attention in the middle 1950s when my brothers and I were playing together in Burbank, California. I was playing a Monroe-based style but, I really liked Jesse’s cross-picking and tried to emulate it when we played Hard-Hearted. I could never do it as well as Jesse! The other mandolin players out there at the time, there were maybe five of them, also had Jim and Jesse’s records and tried their hand at Jesse’s style. He had a huge influence in that way, and of course Jim and Jesse’s wonderful playing and harmony singing together created a vital part of the bluegrass style and repertoire we all love.
Happy 90th, Jesse!”
Jim & Jesse recorded It’s Mighty Dark to Travel for the Bill Monroe album Bluegrass ’87 ….
Paul Schiminger, Executive Director of the International Bluegrass Music Association, offers an official birthday wish.
“The entire bluegrass community sends a happy 90th birthday wish to Jesse McReynolds! Jesse, your contribution to bluegrass music is immeasurable. As a member of the first generation of bluegrass, you have never stopped innovating and inspiring. You are a true Hall of Famer in every way!”
Happy 90th birthday Jesse, from all at Bluegrass Today.