On This Day #52 – Skaggs & Whitley

On this day …

On January 8, 1971, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs recorded tracks for what would be the LP Tribute to The Stanley Brothers (Jalyn JLP-129) at the Jalyn Recording Studio, 1806 Brown Street, Dayton, Ohio.  

The young duo – at the time Keith Whitley was 15 years old and Ricky Skaggs was aged 16 years old – cut a dozen of the Stanley Brothers’ best-known songs, not long after Ralph Stanley discovered them singing in a bar in Ft. Gay, West Virginia. Stanley, hardly believing that he wasn’t listening to a jukebox is reputed to have remarked that they “sounded just like me and Carter in the early days”.

Indeed, their singing was impeccable as is evidenced by these 12 recordings … 

We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven; Mother No Longer Awaits Me at Home; White Dove; Our Last Goodbye; Lonesome River; I Love No One But You; The Angels Are Singing in Heaven Tonight; It’s Never Too Late; Loving You Too Well; Too Late to Cry; Little Glass of Wine and I Long to See the Old Folks

Supporting Keith Whitley (guitar and lead vocals) and Ricky Skaggs (mandolin, fiddle and tenor vocals) were Ralph Stanley (banjo and vocals), Ron Thomason (mandolin), Roy Lee Centers (banjo), Jack Cooke (bass) and Curly Ray Cline (fiddle). 

Ralph Stanley and Jack Lynch served as producers. 

According to the sleeve notes, this album was recorded on January 9, 1971, however Ricky Skaggs, speaking of the session in his autobiography Kentucky Traveler –  My Life in Music remembers it as having been recorded the day before, “We did our first album, Tribute to The Stanley Brothers, in a few hours before a night show in Dayton. I always remembered that we cut it on January 8, ’cause there was an old fiddle tune called Eighth Of January that the old-timers in eastern Kentucky used to play. It seemed like a good omen to make our first record that day.” 

The LP, using the same catalog reference, was re-issued shortly after this release as Ralph StanleyFeaturing Keith Whitley & Ricky Skaggs. 

10 of the 12 tracks – White Dove and The Angels Are Singing in Heaven Tonight were omitted – were re-issued in 2015 on the CD Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain BoysThe Complete Jessup Recordings Plus! (Real Gone Music RGM-0429). 

Keith Whitley went on to an-award winning career as a singer of his neo-traditional brand of country music. He passed away prematurely, of alcohol poisoning, on May 9, 1989, at the age of 33 years. 

Ricky Skaggs also had an extremely successful career as a neo-traditional country music artist, winning multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM awards. In 1997 he turned to play bluegrass music once more, forming a band Kentucky Thunder. He won yet more Grammy awards, as well those presented by the IBMA. 

Whitley and Skaggs were both members of J. D. Crowe’s New South, the former from 1978 to 1982 and the latter during 1975 and 1976. 

Kentucky Traveler –  My Life in Music was written with the help of Eddie Dean and published by Harper Collins  

ISBN: 9780061917332
ISBN 10: 0061917338 

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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.

  • Jose Mature

    I remember Scaggs saying in his autobio, “Kentucky Traveler”, that he remembered recording this album on “The 8th of January”– significant in the date being the name of the old fiddle tune.
    What he failed to mention was the tune was composed in commemoration of The Battle of New Orleans, fought on that date in 1815–exactly 203 years ago, today. It was the same tune with lyrics composed by some high school history professor that Johnny Horton had such a big hit with back in the early sixties, I think it was.
    I highly recommend Scaggs autobio, having just finished reading it myself. He has lived a really blessed life, so very fortunate to have had a loving Christian home to grow up in, and one that supported his natural musical talents to the max. His many professional associations along his musical career path would be the envy of any dedicated country/bluegrass/folk fan, and he doesn’t fail to share. I hope God continues to bless him and his. He is a musical treasure.