Nathan Stanley accepts the torch

legacyNathan Stanley is eagerly awaiting the April 12 release of his second solo project, The Legacy Continues.

Not yet 21 years old, Nathan finds himself in the fearsome position of being deputized to help carry the Stanley sound forward in the 21st century by his grandfather, the legendary Ralph Stanley. But he’s not the least bit nervous about fronting Ralph’s legendary band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. Nathan has been on the road with his Papaw since he was 2 years old, and has had the good fortune of inheriting a voice that resembles both Ralph’s and his equally-legendary brother, Carter’s.

His debut album in 2011 was an old school country record, My Kind Of Country, but Nathan is now dedicated to the mountain style music his heralded family popularized, which they never called bluegrass.

 “My heart is where I am now.

Ralph wants to slow down some, and he wants me to keep the Boys going. When he’s not booked, I take the band out.

Papaw’s 86 years old, and he’s still touring. My goal is to keep the Stanley sound going, and the Clinch Mountain Boys together. He wants to see me keep it going.

The crowds we get are so shocking; people tell me that they’re excited to see the future of the Stanley music is secure.”

And Nathan’s excited about putting his own stamp on the Clinch Mountain Boys. When he fronts the band, he brings Junior Blankenship along on lead guitar, filling a role he had once performed for Nathan’s grandfather. But he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s trying to replace Ralph.

Ralph and Nathan Stanley“I’m not trying to be Ralph Stanley – I cant be, nobody can. But I can be Nathan Stanley. I’m not trying to even be in the same boat as him, but I do want to honor and pay tribute to his legacy. I have the ability to sing like a Stanley, and I want to use that to pay tribute.

I’m not trying to sound like them, I’m just trying to be Nathan. He and Carter laid the groundwork for me, and I’m just trying to keep it going. It’s in me and I want to preserve the Stanley sound for years to come.”

This new record will be the first taste of that future. It was recorded with the Clinch Mountain Boys and a few special guests.

Nathan shared a piece of the album’s new single, a reworking of one of the most iconic Stanley songs, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone. It was originally recorded by The Stanley Brothers in the early 1960s, and memorably covered on a Ralph Stanley album in the early ’70s with Roy Lee Centers on lead vocals.

This new version features Brad Paisley on lead, Nathan on tenor, and Don Rigsby on baritone and bass vocals. Nathan says that he follows Ralph’s lead here, too.

“Papaw used to come in and sing the last verse on collaborations with other artists, like Cold Dark Sunday Morning, so I sing the third verse on this one. You can tell that Brad has listened to that song all his life.

Don makes his debut singing bass on this track.”

Rigsby also plays mandolin on the track, along with Randall Hibbitts on bass, Mitchell Vandyke on banjo, Junior Blakenship on lead guitar, Dewey Brown on fiddle and Tony Dingus on resonator guitar.

Radio programmers who would like a copy of the single are requested to contact Nathan through his web site.

Stanley shared a few words about some of the other songs on The Legacy Continues.

Ralph and Nathan Stanley“There’s one I wrote for my Grandfather, called Papaw I Love You. It’s a real heartfelt song I wrote back in December with our new bass player, Randall Hibbets.

Don wrote one called Golden Years. It sounds like something Papaw would have recorded in the ’70s. I fell in love with this song as soon as I heard it.

Tears Of A Friend is one Jimmy Vaughn wrote. He’s been traveling with me since I was 10 years old, driving the bus for the Clinch Mountain Boys.

We also have our version of the Stanley Brothers’ Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine.

When we do covers from other bluegrass songs, we give it a Stanley sound. There’s our version of Jim & Jesse’s Are You Missing Me, and Calling My Children Home. That last one I tried to make as lonesome sounding as I could. We put a cigar box guitar with three strings on there.

There’s also one we call Stanley Medley, which includes Rolling In My Sweet baby’s Arms, Long Journey Home and Mountain Dew, all songs Papaw has recorded.

It seems that Ralph can rest easy, having someone to take over the family business.

“I’m real proud of my grandson, Nathan Stanley. Ever since he was a toddler, he would follow me around everywhere I went and he would watch me and whatever I would do, he would do also. Now he serves as my lead singer and is doing a wonderful job! I can rest assured that as long is Nathan is around, my music will never die.”

And Nathan understands that an inescapably crucial part of the music is its simplicity.

“The Stanley sound is so easy, it’s hard.”


With Nathan set to take charge of the Clinch Mountain Boys, Ralph is turning over management of his annual Hills of Home festival to his son and namesake, Ralph Stanley II. The 2013 event will be held over the Memorial Day weekend, not far from the Stanley homeplace in Coeburn, VA just as it has for the past 42 years.

“At first I was helping Papaw with it, but Ralph II has been taking care of the festival this past few years. The whole family is involved, and this is what Ralph wants.”

The festival site is also close by the official Ralph Stanley Museum, with shuttle service to and from during the festival weekend.

Ralph, Nathan & the Clinch Mountain Boys will be there all three days, as will Ralph II and his band, and a who’s who of traditional bluegrass artists. Full details can be found online.


UPDATE 4/1/13: To avoid potential confusion, the Stanley family has asked us to amplify the fact that Ralph is not retiring. He continues to tour actively and book into the future. Nathan is taking the band out when Ralph is not booked.

He also was adamant that both Nathan and Ralph II will be involved with the Clinch Mountain Boys when the good Doctor decides to come off the road for good. Any definitive announcements along those lines will come from him at the appropriate time.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.