Recently, the West Virginia Music Hall Of Fame announced the names of those to be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall Of Fame this year. Among them are the Clear Creak, Raleigh County, bluegrass trio the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover.
Also named are Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, but more of them another time.
Michel Burt ‘B’ Lilly (born December 15, 1921, died September 18, 2005) and Charles Everett Lilly (born July 1, 1924) began performing together as a brother duet act, Everett playing mandolin, banjo and fiddle, and ‘B’ playing guitar. While still only teenagers they made their radio debut in 1938, playing a guest spot as the Lonesome Holler Boys on the Old Farm Hour on Charleston’s WCHS.
In 1939, they began performing regularly at the newly-established WKLS Beckley, where they performed together and with other musicians, such as ‘Speedy’ Krise. In the summer of 1945 they moved to WNOX Knoxville where they worked with Lynn Davis and Molly O’Day for a while and then formed the Smiling Mountain Boys with fiddler Burk Barbour and Paul Taylor, a banjo player who was also from West Virginia.
Three years later the Lilly Brothers moved to Wheeling’s WWVA where they were the star turn in Red Belcher’s Kentucky Ridge Runners group. Everett and ‘B’ cut a single for Page Records and ‘B’ and the recently befriended fiddler ‘Tex’ Logan helped Belcher do a couple of sides for the same label. Also, at about this time the brothers cut four songs for the Cozy label.
They remained in Wheeling until 1950, when a dispute with Belcher led to Everett and ‘B’ to leave Belcher and, eventually to return home. In the early 1950s, Everett spent about two years playing mandolin and singing tenor with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, participating in two recording sessions that produced 14 songs in all.
Early in 1952 the brothers were persuaded by Logan to move to Boston where they were joined by banjo player Don Stover (born March 6, 1928 – died November 11, 1996). They got their first job playing on WCOP’s Hayloft Jamboree and from there the Confederate Mountaineers, as the quartet was known, worked at various clubs such as the Hayloft Jamboree and the Boston Jamboree, but most notably at the Hillbilly Ranch. For 18 years, with only a brief interlude when Everett re-joined Flatt & Scruggs and Stover toured with other bands, they played constantly in Boston area. As a result they have been credited with bringing bluegrass to New England and with influencing such future bluegrass artists as Peter Rowan, Jim Rooney and Bill Keith, among others.
In the 1960s they also appeared in concerts at several major colleges and at folk festivals. In 1970 the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover made the first of several successful tours of Japan.
They recorded for Event Records (material later released as Early Recordings by County Records), Folkways and Prestige International (Bluegrass Breakdown – Rounder) and, in 1960, a set of live recordings Live At Hillbilly Ranch (released in Japan; Globe Japan; 1965).
The death of Everett Lilly’s son, Jiles, in January 1970 brought to an end the brothers’ career in Boston and, although they briefly had a TV show on WOAY Oak Hill, West Virginia, their partnership was intermittent thereafter. There were a few festival appearances, concerts and local events each Summer, the Japanese tours and a Gospel album What Will They Leave Behind (County; 1973), but effectively The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover had retired from professional music.
The Lilly Brothers’ career was later chronicled in a 1979 documentary True Facts in a Country Song.
The late Joe Val once said of the Confederate Mountaineers’ influence on urban Massachusetts, “Those guys hit own like a bombshell. Nobody’d ever heard anything like that before.”
David Freeman of County Sales has gone as far as saying that they “have a sound that is about unique in bluegrass.”
The Lilly Brothers’ singing has been described as “rich, mountain-flavoured bluegrass” and their brand of dynamic, no holds barred traditional bluegrass has been noted as “haunting and earthy.”
The Lilly Brothers were inducted into the Massachusetts Country Music Hall of Fame in 1986 and Don Stover was inducted the following year. In 2002, the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor (as it was known then).
Everett Lilly, now 84, continues to play and perform with his sons in a band called Everett Lilly and the Lilly Mountaineers. The album Everett Lilly & Everybody and their Brother (Swift River Music) is among the final nominations for this year’s IBMA Recorded Event Of The Year award.
The induction ceremony will take place in November at the state Cultural Centre in Charleston.
There are half a dozen CDs of the Lilly Brothers’ music still readily available, most featurng Don Stover.