Memoriams to James Alan Shelton continue to come in, focusing mostly on what a good friend and fine fellow he was, aside from his obvious skills as a guitarist. This one comes from Mississippian Larry Wallace, who played banjo with Jimmy Martin from 1991 to 2000. Larry now performs with his own group, The Larry Wallace Band.
I first met James Alan at Slagle’s Pasture in Elizabethton, Tennessee in June of 1991 – my first show date with Jimmy Martin. And, a few years after that, I was pleased to hear he had joined Ralph as a Clinch Mountain Boy.
Fast-forward to 1997 at a bluegrass festival in Norwalk, Ohio… As I was walking toward the stage to go on with Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys, my leather strap from 1976 (not a Shelton), decided right then to break. I panicked because I was literally headed to the stage, my strap was damaged beyond quick repair, and the band before us had already finished their last song.
I looked to my left and saw Ralph’s record table and running the table was James Alan. At the same time I saw him, I saw a brand new Shelton banjo strap on the table! I ran up to him and said, “My strap broke!” He said, “No problem, I can fix it before you go on.” I said, “I’m on NOW.” He said, “OH! – ahhhh – let’s put this one on!” Needless to say, he and I put a strap on a banjo in record time! We both were amazed at how quickly we worked under the pressure of time. I made a dash to the stage just in time to take my place at my microphone before the emcee brought us on.
After our show, I returned to Ralph’s table and shook James Alan’s hand, thanked him for quickly helping me, and placed an order for two Shelton banjo straps. And, yes, he took my old strap home with him and fixed it good! From that day on, he and I always laughed and re-visited about “that time in Norwalk.”
Rest in peace my friend.