Former Blue Grass Boy, Les Sandy, passed away at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, North Carolina, on July 28, 2022, after a short battle with cancer. He was 93 years old.
Leslie Matheson Sandy was born, one of the eight children, near Raeford, south central North Carolina, on August 8, 1928. Sandy’s first experience of playing bluegrass music began when he played bass for Hoke Jenkins & the Smokey Mountaineers (with whom he worked on Augusta, Georgia, Radio WGAC around 1949).
His love for music began at a very early age after he learned to play his father’s harmonica when he was six years old. The effects of the Depression made life tough for all rural families and the radio provided an escape as they listened to music broadcast in the Carolinas and from Nashville
Since that time, he has learned to play all five of the traditional bluegrass instruments, with a preference for the fiddle and the guitar.
When he was drafted into the US Navy, and while duties aboard a couple of aircraft carriers took them to the Mediterranean, western Europe, and the Caribbean, he entertained shipmates.
After demobilizing, a strong desire to learn more prompted Les to leave home when he was 19 years old to pursue a professional career in music, and to meet other musicians. Hence, in 1946 he went down to Miami, Florida, where he played and sang with renowned fiddle player Vassar Clements. Leslie’s brother, Coolidge, also a musician, later joined him in Key West, Florida where they sang and played at Sloppy Joe’s for just over a year. While there they met Key West resident, the renowned author Ernest Hemingway, with whom Les Sandy would play deck shuffleboard.
During the early 1950s Sandy played electric guitar and sang with Homer Drye and The Briarhoppers on WPTF, Raleigh, North Carolina; did show dates along with The Bailey Brothers and Clyde Moody, before moving to Florence, South Carolina, where he worked as featured vocalist, lead guitarist, and fiddler with Charles ‘Slim’ Mims and The Dream Ranch Boys on WJMX, Florence, South Carolina; and played show dates with Snuffy Jenkins and The Hired Hands, and Arthur Smith and The Crackerjacks.
Mims, who adopted his own Uncle Ugly bumpkin persona, inspired Sandy’s own Uncle Puny comic character, created with reference to his mother’s chiding, “You’re gonna be puny if you don’t eat!”
Having filled-in with Monroe in late May 1953, and after working his notice with Mims, Sandy joined the Blue Grass Boys in June, playing bass and being the band’s featured comedian. His stint was a short one, only staying with Monroe until the end of the year.
Sandy re-joined Monroe in September 1954 but this time stayed with him for less than a month.
Sandy once recalled ……
“I first met Bill Monroe in 1953 when he (along with Jimmy Martin, Charlie Cline, and L.E. White) appeared at the Barbeque Barn near Florence, South Carolina. I was playing with Slim Mims and The Dream Ranch Boys on WJMX at the time. We opened the show for Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys that night. Bill needed a bass player for his show, and I filled in for him. Before the evening was over, he had offered me a job with his band. We met the next weekend at the Pick Theater in Mt. Airy, North Carolina where he had a show. Monroe gave me 15 minutes on his show to perform a comedy act. It was my debut as the comedian, Uncle Puny. After that, Monroe and I started to do two-man comedy routines together in addition to my playing the bass as a regular part of his shows. We put on shows at a lot of schools and traveled quite a bit.
Times on the road got really bad, and I left Monroe in the winter of 1953, worked awhile with Slim Mims, then went back with Monroe in 1954.”
Hoping to have his own singing career in the style of Eddy Arnold, Sandy tried unsuccessfully for his own recording contract with Decca.
Thereafter Sandy worked with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys (whom he first met in Augusta, Georgia in 1949), then appearing on WDVA, Danville, Virginia.
In January 1955, the band with Sandy playing bass cut four songs, I’ll Wear The Banner, My Garden of Love, Tears of Regret and I’ll See You Tonight in My Dreams, in a Nashville session for Capitol Records. Two of these were released on a single while all were included on an LP and later re-issued on a Bear Family retrospective.
Jim & Jesse – I’ll Wear The Banner
He left Jim & Jesse and The Virginia Boys for a while, and Coolidge (rhythm guitar) and Leslie (fiddle) formed the band, The Sandy Brothers, which included Mack (banjo), and Eldon Sandy (bass and mandolin), and they started their own television program, The Carolina Jamboree, in Wilmington, North Carolina (on WMFD now WECT). A young Charlie Daniels was a frequent guest, making his first TV appearance on this show, and they actually played together in a band, The Misty Mountain Boys.
Seemingly for little more than to participate in a split Decca recording session that produced six cuts.
Sandy re-joined Monroe in 1957. He played guitar on each of these songs, new versions of Goodbye Old Pal, Molly And Tenbrooks, and Come Back To Me In My Dreams, and newer material Out In The Cold World, Roane County Prison, and In Despair, all of which were released on Monroe’s first LP, Knee Deep In Bluegrass.
Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys – Out In The Cold World
For many years Sandy’s involvement in the Monroe recordings remained unknown as he was incorrectly identified in Decca’s recording ledgers as Lester Sandy.
Sandy re-joined Jim & Jesse – now playing on the Suwannee River Jamboree in Live Oak, Florida – in the summer of in 1957.
Very briefly during 1958 Sandy played bass for Jimmy Martin, making an appearance on The Louisiana Hayride along the way, and in the following year he sang and played rhythm guitar with Curly Mulligan and The Sundowners on WGAC, Augusta, Georgia. They had an early evening show on WRDW-TV in North Augusta, South Carolina, whereon Sandy was featured singing western songs.
Settling back near home, from 1960 through to 1962, Leslie and Coolidge, calling themselves the Les Sandy Band, played main-stream country music with a variety of other musicians; they played at NCO Clubs at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, three to five nights a week. During this time, they performed at many festivals and other events held in towns throughout eastern North Carolina also. However, they soon quit when rock-n-roll music took over the clubs in the region.
In 1965 he started his own business, running Sandy’s Trading Post just outside Raeford. Then in 1973 he began a handy-man concern, Sandy’s Paint & Repair, that kept him and others gainfully employed for 20 years.
After a 25-year break and a minor stroke, Sandy retired and picked up the fiddle once more, and in a more-relaxed environment he enjoyed playing in jam sessions and with pick-up bands.
During the early part of this century Sandy worked with Stephenson Brothers & Linda – recording a CD of 15 classic bluegrass and bluegrass Gospel songs – with Ted Jones and The Tarheel Boys, some other fine young pickers from the region in the band, Clearview (from 2003 to 2005), and filled-in with South Ridge Bluegrass on a couple of occasions.
Sandy was frequently seen and heard performing at the R.A. Fountain General Store, a family-friendly music venue in the little town of Fountain, North Carolina.
Steve Creed, Clearview’s vocalist and mandolin player,
“Les was a good friend and will be missed. It’s hard to be sad for someone who was blessed with almost 94 years in good health. He shared his love for bluegrass with many people.”
One young musician to benefit from Sandy’s talents was fiddler and singer Ashley Davis (Kristi Stanley & Running Blind, and Appalachian Trail Bluegrass Band), whom at the age of 13, started to learn to play with Sandy.
Davis commented on learning of Sandy’s passing ..
“My mentor Les Sandy made a huge impact on my life. I cherish sweet memories of fiddlin’ with Les at the jam sessions in eastern North Carolina, making a fiddle CD with him in 2007, and I’m so grateful I got to jam and visit with him recently in 2019 at his nephew Michael Carter’s home. Every time I saw Les he invited me to sit next to him and learn a tune, or get up on stage and twin fiddle with him. Les had the best tone on a fiddle, guitar, or singing, and was always respectful of the other musicians in the band. He knew the right time to play and the right time to let others be heard. He loved to entertain with jokes and funny stories too. Mr. Les is a major reason why I still play fiddle today, and also why I enjoy teaching my students so much.
Kind, encouraging, generous people like Mr. Les are rare – surely a gift from God – he will be dearly missed. Please keep his sweet family in your prayers.”
He performed in several theatrical productions, appearing in the musical drama, Smoke on the Mountain, presented by the Encore Theater in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and was a part of the musical group that starred in the Cape Fear Regional Theatre (Fayetteville, North Carolina) production, Big River – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Leslie played the fiddle in both productions.
Beth Newton, director of the former, said, “Mr. Sandy brought a whole new level to the performance of the show.”
Most significantly, he recorded an album of his own; a dozen old-time fiddle tunes, including Liberty, Whiskey Before Breakfast, and Black Mountain Rag. On Johnson’s Old Grey Mule Sandy allows us to enjoy his rascally story-telling role of Uncle Puny, which was a recurring part of his stage presentations long after he left Monroe.
In his later years Sandy practiced on a regular basis, not only to keep his skills sharp and to learn something new, but also, for the sheer enjoyment for his love for music. Also, he entertained at special functions such as family celebrations, wedding receptions, for civic organizations, and senior citizens’ groups.
Also, Sandy hosted many jams in his former workshop, in which he erected a stage and installed a sound system.
R.I.P. Les Sandy
- A Bluegrass Legend (Audio Farm Records No#, 2005)
Jim & Jesse
- I’ll Wear The Banner / My Garden Of Love (Capitol F 3505, August 1956)
- Twenty Great Songs by Jim & Jesse (Capitol Records DTBB-264, 1968)
- Air Mail Special – Early Recordings 1952 – 1955 (Rebel Records Of Canada REB 851, Capitol Special Markets – SL 8497, 1985) – I’ll Wear The Banner
- Jim & Jesse – 1952-1955 (Bear Family Records BCD 15635, 1992)
Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys
- Knee Deep In Bluegrass (Decca DL-8731, June 23, 1958) (re-issued on Bluegrass Style (Vocalion VL-73870) with two songs, including Molly And Tenbrooks, were omitted)
- Bill Monroe: Bluegrass 1950-58 (Bear Family BCD-15423, August 1989 (4CD box))
Stephenson Brothers & Linda
- Sing The Old Songs (Audio Farm Records, 2004)
Ted Jones and The Tarheel Boys
- Ted Jones and The Tarheel Boys (Audio Farm Records, ??)
- Clearview (Main Tripp Records, Inc., c.2004)
- Fiddlin’ with Les (Golden Valley Records, 2007)