This article is a contribution from CJ Lewandowski, mandolinist with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, and a proud fan of the Stanley sound.
As a young traditionalist, I’ve always had the yearning to make the trip through the Clinch Mountains of Virginia, and across Smith Ridge to pay my respects to Bluegrass Music’s “Luke the Drifter” of sorts. Carter Stanley left us way too soon, but he didn’t leave us in song. Through the legendary Stanley Brothers Recordings, we can still cry with Carter on I’m Only Human. To stand in the Hills of Home Cemetery was almost a fairy tale to me until this past Memorial Day Weekend. I witnessed the spirit of the mountains that Ralph and Carter popularized in their songs. And I felt the presence of the man himself. It seems that Carter has some unfinished business or songwriting yet to do. The nights at his resting place are filled with sounds of footsteps in the grass without a sole and the wind howls the lonesome melodies that have touched so many.
As we all know, The Clinch Mountain Boys name would have never existed had it not been for the brothers I’ve mentioned. Starting in 1946, and lasting through the lean years of Rock n Roll, the tragic untimely death of Carter, and forging through with Ralph at the reigns for 70 years this year. Most people don’t live that long, much less head a band with a Doctorate degree, world wide fame, and countless other accolades. With that said, hats off to The Clinch Mountain Boys, past and present, living and gone, for helping the good doctor prescribe some of the best medicine a man could get ahold of. Old Time Mountain Music with a touch of raised head banjo. Thank the Lord for Ralph Stanley dredging through the hard times, the loss of his brother and partner, and all the heartaches that come with traveling across the world and being away from his family for so many years. As Ricky Skaggs stated at a special presentation on Friday May 27th, “Ralph Stanley was marked by God at birth with a gift and a talent, and we are lucky enough to share this time with him and encounter his greatness first hand.” Those words being spoke at Dr. Ralph Stanley’s 46th Annual Hills Of Home Festival made one powerful moment.
Within the past few years, there have been a few scuffles and misconceptions in media and news with The Clinch Mountain Boys title. Ralph has retired, then retracted. Family members have used the title without Ralph present, raising questions about the elder statesman’s health or possible retirement again. So, what is the status of this highly appreciated band?
As Ralph approaches 90 years of age, his health is that of an average 89 year old man who has tended his cattle and farm all his life. Naturally, he has slowed down. The Stanley Family has announced the retirement of Dr. Ralph, as he needs to be with family and deserves the rest. With that being said, the requests of Dr. Stanley are now being set into play.
Ralph Stanley II heard his father’s wishes and has proudly stepped up to the Clinch Mountain Boys title. At this past weekend’s Festival on Smith Ridge, Ralph II was brought on as “Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys.” A title that only he is worthy of carrying through the next generation. The band, as famous as its leader, will not die out. The Clinch Mountain sound is in great hands.
Through cracking voice and fighting back tears, Ralph II announced that he was taking over the Clinch Mountain Boys with honor and dignity. A bittersweet moment that was sad, yet amazing at the same time. The actual passing of the torch has taken place. He spoke of his dad and asked the crowd to pray for Daddy Ralph and himself as he continues the name and music his father placed in his care.
The likes of Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Mayor Jack Cooke, Roy Lee Centers, Steve Sparkman, Melvin Goins, Larry Sparks, Danny Davis, James Allen Shelton, Leslie Keith, Art Stamper, George Shuffler, Curly Ray Cline, Pee Wee Lambert and countless others have worn the title of a Clinch Mountain Boy. That list is as stout as buttermilk and 2 doesn’t take that lightly either. The Clinch Mountain Boys now consist of 2’s previous band, John Rigsby (former Clinch Mountain Boy) on fiddle and mandolin, Alex Leach on banjo, Brad Beavers on the upright, and Ralph II on the guitar in Uncle Carter’s spot. Just like it should be. Little Ralph and his sister, Lisa, have said if and when Doctor Ralph wants to tour any dates in the future, it will be with Ralph Stanley II and The Clinch Mountain Boys. He will be taken care of and allowed to do things at his own pace in the care of Lisa and 2.
This isn’t the first huge responsibility that Ralph II has been entrusted with by his father. For the past 5 years, Ralph II has continued the legacy of the Hills of Home Bluegrass Festival under the guidance of the Doctor. 2 has cared for the grounds and the lineup with great success and will continue to do so as long as he can.
If you didn’t attend Dr. Ralph Stanley’s 46th Annual Hills of Home Festival, you sure missed out on a good time! Great music and lots of special moments. This is the first year that the Doctor could not make an appearance on the grounds during the festival. Due to some current health issues, Ralph chose to stay home. Many people were sad to hear of his illness, so please keep Dr. Ralph and Jimmi Stanley in your thoughts and prayers.
Long live The Clinch Mountain Boys.