Lester Woodie remembered

Lester Woodie passed away on March 23, 2018, at Lynchburg General Hospital Lynchburg, Virginia. He was 86 years old and had been ailing with Alzheimer’s disease for several years. 

Lester Gene Woodie was born September 20, 1931, in western North Carolina, moving to Valdese, North Carolina, when he was eight years old. Lester and his brother, Lloyd, were given a mandolin and guitar for Christmas in 1939 and they soon began learning to play the instruments.  

Lester made friends with an older local fiddler, Zenie Page, who taught him his first tunes. Later he enjoyed the experience of playing with near-neighbours George and John Shuffler. They listened to records and occasionally the three-some performed together.

Adding a steel-guitar player, Curly Williams, they formed The Melody Mountain Boys, playing country music in the region until a year-long hiatus interrupted their progress. When they got back together, they performed on local radio stations in North Wilkesboro, Lenoir, and Hickory (WHKY and WIRC). Perry Duncan, aka ‘Carolina Slim’ joined the band and his fiddling was a big influence on Woodie. They played together off and on for about four or five years. 

After graduating from high school in June 1949, Woodie was recruited by the Stanley Brothers and he spent two years touring, performing and recording with the Clinch Mountain Boys, including fiddling for their first recording of Man of Constant Sorrow.  

Other recordings that he did with the Stanley Brothers include We’ll Be Sweethearts In Heaven, I Love No One But You, Too Late To Cry, The Old Home, The Fields Have Turned Brown, The Lonesome River, and Pretty Polly. 

Woodie was part of the Clinch Mountain Boys that helped the Stanley Brothers during a three-month residency on the radio and TV stations WSAZ, Huntington, West Virginia, helping to introduce country music to the stations and its listeners/viewers. 

Very briefly, from the fall of 1950, the Stanley Brothers – with Woodie – performed on KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, from where, homesick, they returned to Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, by way of Lexington, Kentucky. The stop-over was to facilitate what was to be Woodie’s last recording session, in Nashville, with the Stanley Brothers. 

While he was in the US Air Force serving in the Philippines during the early 1950s, he had a band that played at the officer’s club. After Woodie got out of service, he returned to Valdese, where he linked up with the Shuffler boys once more.  

He then attended college in Lynchburg, where he joined Bill and Mary Reid & The Melody Mountaineers. During 1955 and 1956 Woodie helped them record eight sides, producing four singles for Columbia Records. 

The band made regular radio and TV appearances in the Lynchburg, Virginia area.  

After a few years moving around to Hickory, North Carolina, Roanoke, Virginia, and Kingsport, Tennessee, Les stayed working close to home to support his family. While in Roanoke he played briefly with Bill Jefferson’s band, performing at dances and on TV. 

This association with Jefferson led to Woodie doing some MC work, and then in 1962 he moved to Jefferson’s radio station WKDE, in Altavista, Virginia, where he was a DJ and the station manager for a period of 47 years. He did a lot to promote bluegrass music on the station.  

In August 1962 – when the Stanley Brothers were experiencing a lean period and didn’t always have a band – Woodie assisted Carter and Ralph during an appearance at the Danville, Virginia fairgrounds. 

After a few years of semi-retirement from picking, he started playing at bluegrass festivals, performing with Stan Dudley and Bluegrass 1 with whom he did an album in 1978, and another in about 1980. 

Also, Woodie helped popular eastern North Carolina singer and bandleader Roby Huffman, playing fiddle on his Grassound album, Colorado River.  

In turn he recorded his own album, Les Woodie & Friends More Pickin’, Les Singin’ – with many of songs penned by Woodie – and went into the studio with his friend Charlie Moore, who sadly passed away shortly after the album was finished. 

During the late 1970s he worked with the Tunstall Trio, a bluegrass Gospel group from the Danville area. Two members provided vocal harmony on Woodie’s LP. 

Woodie would often attend Ralph Stanley’s Homecoming festivals at Smith Ridge, Virginia. On one such occasion, in May 1996, he participated in the 50th anniversary Clinch Mountain Boys Reunion, parts of which can be found on a 2-CD collection and/or on a DVD. 

This video clip shows Woodie fiddling on the classic Black Mountain Blues from that very festival appearance …  

Woodie retired from the radio station in 2010. 

Other career highlights include first place in both the Virginia and the North Carolina state fiddle championships, acknowledgement by the International Bluegrass Museum as a Pioneer of Bluegrass, including participation in its River of Music Party ’09 Pioneers in Performance at the RiverPark Center, Owensboro, KY. 

Gary B Reid, renowned authority on the Stanley Brothers, recalls    …..

I first crossed paths with Lester Woodie in the early 1980s when I did a telephone interview with him about his work with the Stanley Brothers. He was very personable and articulate and had fond memories of his time as a Clinch Mountain Boy. Over the years, as they would pop up, he remained willing and open to answering questions about his work. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform on several occasions as he would make return visits to Ralph Stanley’s Memorial Day Bluegrass Festival, where he would recreate his classic fiddle kick-off to I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow.

A Discography 

The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys

  • The Columbia Sessions, 1949-1950, Volume 1 (Rounder Special Series 09 / Rounder Records ‎P 15187) 
  • The Columbia Sessions, 1949-1950, Volume 2 (Rounder Special Series 10 / Rounder Records P 15188) 

Stan Dudley and Les Woodie & the Bluegrass 1

  • Something Old & Something New in Bluegrass (Lark 3030, 1978) 

Roby Huffman and the Bluegrass Cutups

  • Colorado River (Grassound A 105, 1978) 

Les Woodie & Friends

  • More Pickin’, Les Singin’ (Major MRLP 3067, 1979) re-issued on CD; Major 143699.04, 2000. 

Charlie Moore and the Dixie Partners ‎ 

  • The Legendary Charlie Moore and the Dixie Partners (Leather Records LBG 7704, 1979) 

Stan Dudley & Bluegrass 1

  • The Last Letter: Featuring Juanita (Lark LRLP 3083, 1980)

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys 

  • Clinch Mountain Boys Reunion (Stanleytone ST-CD-5000, 1996) 
  • Black Mountain Blues and Man of Constant Sorrow 


The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music (Smithsonian Collection ‎R 025 P8 15640, 

  • The Lonesome River (The Stanley Brothers) 

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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.