Melvin Glen Goins passed away on Friday, July 29, 2016, while at West Nipissing General Hospital in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Canada. He was in North Bay to play at the River Valley Bluegrass Jamboree, at nearby North Bay.
He came into this world on December 30, 1933, one of ten siblings, in a small log cabin in Rock, near Bramwell, an economically poor but musically rich area of southern West Virginia. His family provided the earliest influences, directly with their own musical skills and, indirectly, by way of their radio that could pick up WHIS from Bluefield and WSM from Nashville. Later they enjoyed listening to the bluegrass stars of WCYB’s Farm and Fun Time.
They continued their bluegrass music education by attending outdoor bluegrass shows at Glenwood Park, West Virginia, and Doran Airport, Richland, Virginia, both involving a walk of four miles and a ride on a bus or street car.
A self-taught guitarist, Melvin Goins’ first professional job as a musician was with his banjo-playing younger brother, Ray, when the duo, using the name the Shenandoah Playboys, had a Saturday morning show on Radio WKOY in Bluefield. They performed two shows a day on the Salt & Peanuts show on Radio WHIS.
They played at a Saturday night dance in Spanishburg, West Virginia, also.
In November 1953 they moved to Pikeville, Kentucky, where later Melvin and Ray Goins went to work with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, staying with them until mid-1955, during which period they recorded the band’s signature song, Windy Mountain.
In July 1958 Melvin Goins played guitar, a fill-in part, for Bill Monroe. The teenage brothers continued to play together also, as their own band began to evolve.
It wasn’t all music though as Melvin Goins worked in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky also for a time.
During the early 1960s the brothers returned to play with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, recording four LPs for Starday Records.
In January 1966 Goins joined the Stanley Brothers playing bass and doing comedy, something that he enjoyed doing for many years afterwards. He helped with the booking of their shows also. Goins remained a Clinch Mountain Boy beyond the time that Carter Stanley passed away on December 1st of that same year, spending three years with Ralph Stanley.
In May 1969 Melvin and Ray re-formed the Goins Brothers band and in a near 30-year stint together they recorded more than 30 albums on various record labels, including Rem, Jalyn, Jessup, Rebel, Old Homestead, Vetco, Hay Holler and Crosscut.
As well as appearances at concerts and festivals, the Goins Brothers were one of the first, if not the first, to do special shows for rural schoolchildren.
The brothers sponsored the first bluegrass festival in Kentucky during August 1971 at Lake Stephens, near Beckley, and during the next two decades in Kentucky and Ohio as well. Melvin Goins was recognised by the SPBGMA for his work as a festival promotor.
In March 1993 Melvin Goins, wearing a suit, was featured on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine, the first bluegrass musician to be so featured.
In 1997 Ray retired and Melvin formed Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain. Since then he pursued a solo career doing exactly what he loved to do.
He worked tirelessly to promote the music he grew up with and loved. A member of the Board of Directors of Morehead State University’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, Goins was, in 2001, awarded the Appalachian Treasure Award by MSU in recognition of his dedication in promoting and preserving Appalachia’s cultural heritage.
2005: The Goins Brothers are included in the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s oral history project.
In 2011 Melvin Goins was honoured along with his brother, Ray, who had passed away in 2007, as part of the 2011 inductees into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. The state, in which he lived from 1953, made him an Honorary Kentucky Colonel and had a Kentucky highway named after him.
Two years later the Goins Brothers were inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and in 2015 Melvin Goins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his own right.
As already mentioned, Goins’ record catalogue is considerable, but available Goins Brothers’ collections are limited possibly to Still Goin’ Strong (Hay Holler HHH-CD 501), We’ll Carry On (HHH-CD 502), Run Satan, Run (HH-CD 1338) and He Showed Me the Way (Crosscut CR 1036), the latest being released in 2000.
CD releases by Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain include Bluegrass Blues (Hay Holler HH-CD 1346), Light in the Window Again, I Wouldn’t Miss It (Rebel REB-CD 1797) and Dancin’ in the Dirt (Blue Circle BCR 018).
By comparison the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers are better represented with three CDs available; Starday Collection (Gusto GT7 2130-2), Bluegrass Collection (GT7 2131-2) and Windy Mountain (Bear Family BCD 16351), which contains eight cuts from 1954.
His official biography described him as … “very humble, talented and generous. He always had a big smile and loved to make people laugh and loved to tell stories.”
Larry Sparks’ friendship with Melvin Goins extends over 50 years …..
“Melvin Goins was my friend and a real bluegrass trooper. I met him back in the 1960s when he was booking shows for the Stanley Brothers and his band, The Goins Brothers, Ralph Stanley and then myself and other name bands as well as smaller name bands. We have lost a great warrior and fighter for our traditional bluegrass music.
He will be missed by many of us who knew and worked with him over the years.”
I pray his soul will rest in the presence of our Lord God.
Author Penny Parsons speaks of Goins’ personal traits …….
“I can’t claim to have been a close friend of Melvin Goins, but Melvin was one of those people who seemed to never meet a stranger. He was generous with his time, he loved talking about the music he loved, and he embraced those who shared his passion.
My first encounter with Melvin was when we were collecting recipes for The Bluegrass Music Cookbook in 1996. After we contacted him, he sent multiple hand-written recipes – more than we could possibly use, but we did use seven of them. Then, in 2008, I arranged to interview Melvin at a bluegrass festival for an article for Bluegrass Unlimited.
I also wanted to get his memories of Curly Seckler’s time with Flatt & Scruggs for use in the book that I was working on. He sat patiently with me, answered questions, and told some great stories, but we ran out of time and Melvin had to cut the interview short to give a performance. So I arranged to visit him in Kentucky later that year. He took me to the radio station where he had a bluegrass show and let me observe while he taped a show. Then we finished the interview and I took some photos.
Last year, when I was preparing for the publication of my biography of Curly Seckler, I sent Melvin some forms to sign that said he granted me permission to quote him in the book. He signed them and immediately sent them back, and marked the envelope ‘IMPORTANT!.’ These are examples of how Melvin went the extra mile for me, when he didn’t really need to. But that is the kind of person he was.
I spoke with Melvin at Ralph Stanley’s funeral and though he seemed frail he told me he was feeling ‘pretty good.’ I gave him a copy of the newly published Foggy Mountain Troubadour book, and he said, ‘When you see Curly you tell him I said he was the best tenor singer the Foggy Mountain Boys ever had!’ That was my last encounter with Melvin and I will treasure that memory. His passing leaves a huge void in the bluegrass world. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed.”