curlyOn this day in 1923 ……

January 10, 1923, Curly Ray Cline was born.

Had he lived, the extrovert Curly Ray Cline would have been 90 years old today.

Born in Pike County, Kentucky, Cline was inspired to play the fiddle by hearing Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith during his appearances on the Grand Ole Opry that Cline heard on the radio. Taught the rudiments by his father, Cline was largely self-taught otherwise.

In his mid-teens he assisted brother Ned and cousin Ezra form Cousin Ezra and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, later shortened to and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Initially they worked on Radio WHIS in Bluefield, West Virginia, where they remained until 1952.

During this time Curly and younger brother Charlie Cline were also playing in Jimmy Martin’s band, the Sunny Mountain Boys.

After a session for Cozy Records the ‘Fiddlers’ recorded several singles for RCA Victor between May 1952 and September 1954; Cline played on such cuts as You Broke Your Promise, Twenty One Years, Brown Eyed Darling, You Left Me To Cry, I’ll Never Make You Blue, Honky Tonk Blues, Lonesome Pine Breakdown, Windy Mountain and No Curb Service, some of which Cline helped to write.

Curly Ray Cline, dubbed the the Old Kentucky Fox Hunter after his love of the hunt, did studio work for many musicians such as Jimmy Martin, Bobby Osborne, Rex and Eleanor Parker and Hobo Jack Adkins. He continued to perform with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers intermittently through the early 1960s.

Intermittently, during 1966 Cline played with the Stanley Brothers.

stanleyFollowing Carter Stanley’s death in December 1966 and Ralph Stanley’s return in 1967 to playing ‘that old-time mountain music they call bluegrass,’ he signed up as his full-time fiddler.

Cline helped Ralph Stanley record all his albums from that time until he retired in 1993.

Rebel Records indulged him, releasing a slew of LPs during the 1970s and he had a similar number of releases by Old Homestead Records and on a variety of smaller labels also. On those albums, Cline combined some excellent old-time fiddling with his own vocal sound effects, including the sounds of barking hounds and braying mules, and traditional bluegrass songs. He did hardly any solo singing until about 1972, when he began to sing comedy numbers to add variety to Ralph Stanley’s shows.

He was a lovable showman, well-known for his little enterprises; along with his LPs, he would sell key chains and other trinkets to anybody who had a dollar to spare.

Cline, who passed away on August 19, 1997, had a deep passion for old time, as well as for bluegrass music. That love translated into the way he played the fiddle – playing music the way that he felt it; just the way Ralph Stanley played the banjo, making a perfect blend.

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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.