Jim McCall passes away

Bluegrass music pioneer Jim McCall passed away on Tuesday, 9 February.

McCall, who was perhaps best know for his association with Earl Taylor, was a mainstay in the Cincinnati area for many years appearing and recording with Benny Birchfield, Vernon McIntyre and the Appalachian Grass and others.

He has been rated as an extremely solid guitar player who laid a perfect rhythmic foundation for whichever singer he was supporting. He was a fine stylistic singer in his own right. Songwriter Jon Weisberger recently described McCall as “one of the greatest singers in bluegrass.”

McCall and Earl Taylor with the Stoney Mountain Boys recorded three albums for Rural Rhythm in the mid-to-late 1960s. Cuts from those excellent LPs, three separate volumes have been re-released on CD; 20 Bluegrass Favorites (Best Of The 60’s) (Rural Rhythm RHY-188) and 24 Bluegrass Favorites (Best Of The 70’s) (Rural Rhythm RHY-320).

In the early 1970s McCall recorded a solo album entitled Pickin’ & Singin’ for Vetco. Later he recorded with Vernon McIntyre, the duo producing two LPs both released on the Vetco label. Accompanied by Vernon McIntyre, Harley Gabbard, Paul Mullins and Benny Birchfield, McCall recorded four sides, released as two singles, for the REM label.

McCall was as hard edged as a bluegrass musician can be.

Among the family members who survive Jim McCall is his son, mandolin player and vocalist in the fashion of his father, Dwight McCall, currently performing with JD Crowe & The New South.

Share this:

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.

  • Sandy Rothman

    The passing of Jim McCall, like that of Jack Cooke just a short time ago, marks the loss of a foundation stone in bluegrass. In Jim’s case (as with other members of the original Stoney Mountain Boys such as Sam Hutchins, Walt Hensley, Frankie Short, and Vernon “Boatwhistle” McIntye, who gained regional renown in Baltimore and Cincinnati before the music was as widely recognized as it is now) his gifts are underappreciated despite the recorded evidence, which is too little and in some cases unavailable. I had the honor of picking with Jim for only a brief time around 1970 but had been a listener and fan since the late 1950s. His singing and guitar playing were, to borrow the modern cliché, “as good as it gets”…and not only for traditional bluegrass. Some of the material he performed and recorded (on Vetco) with Vernon McIntyre and others was experimental and progressive, while always grounded in Jim’s inspiring lead voice—a voice that should be as well known as the singing of Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, Red Smiley, Charlie Moore, and more.

    I would like to comment on a few of Richard Thompson’s descriptions.

    He has been rated as an extremely solid guitar player…

    To me, “solid” is a very insufficient word for Jim’s guitar picking. Certainly it was that, but I feel the term better describes a good, consistent, journeyman guitarist. Jim was beyond that. His highly accomplished rhythm work was in league with the guitarists previously named. If you were a picker and you had Jim’s guitar behind you (not to mention Earl’s propulsive mandolin), its full tone, expansive feel, and well-placed punctuation (runs and lead-in notes) simply made you play your best.

    …who laid a perfect rhythmic foundation for whichever singer he was supporting.

    Certainly that is true…but it leaves out Jim’s primary support of his own vocals. Like the artists just mentioned, his warm singing and accurate picking were two parts of a beautifully integrated whole.

    He was a fine stylistic singer in his own right. Songwriter Jon Weisberger recently described McCall as “one of the greatest singers in bluegrass.”

    Not sure what “in his own right” indicates, but there is no way to disagree with Jon Weisberger’s statement. If no more than 7 words were available to describe Jim McCall, these would be the ones.

    McCall and Earl Taylor with the Stoney Mountain Boys recorded three albums for Rural Rhythm in the mid-to-late 1960s.

    Yes, although one shortcoming of these recordings is the time constraints placed on the tracks by the original label owner, who often had his artists shorten their renditions in order to put more tracks on each LP (at times a triumph of quantity over quality). If there were to be a retrospective of Jim’s recordings as there deservedly should be (and I’m so sorry it didn’t happen while Jim was living), the best of the RR sides would accompany the Rem sessions mentioned (actually there were three Rem 45s and, according to Vernon McIntyre, unreleased tracks from those sessions) and, primarily, two classic vocals recorded by Earl, Jim, and the Stoneys (with Scotty Stoneman) for Rebel in 1960, incomparable originals written by Ellen and Earl Taylor: “Calling Your Name” and “I Could Change My Mind.”

    McCall was as hard edged as a bluegrass musician can be.

    To me, Jim’s voice was like mountain honey flowing from a jar. It was beautiful, sweet, refined, smooth, and gentle. Was he hard-edged? Yes, he could be. There was more than one facet to the talents of this Virginia gentleman, but I wouldn’t prefer that description standing alone.

    The last time I spoke with Jim by phone, a few years ago now, we reminisced and said how much fun it would be to get some of the old Stoneys together again…but of course Earl was gone then, and so was Boatwhistle. And now Jim has gone to be with them.

  • Granada90

    Jim was like a father to me. We related and agreed on most aspects of life and everything about music. I used to tease him about the size of his fingers…they were huge…lol

    The Christmas before his passing, we were playing Scruggs style guitar together, via speaker phone. What a pleasure that was. We spoke again later on Jan 2, 2010 not knowing we’d never speak to each other again.

    Despite the fact of his recordings with many great musicians, I had that same pleasure. Without using $5 words, Jim was just a good ol boy and a very dear friend of mine. It’s now 2 mos later and I still feel it’s only a dream.

    RIP my friend…..

    Brent Parson