Ralph Lewis passes

Former Blue Grass Boy, Ralph Lewis passed away on Saturday evening, August 5, 2017. He was 89 years of age, the son of a seventh son who was born son of a seventh son.

Born on April 25, 1928, in Madison County, North Carolina, he was raised in a musical family and he picked up mandolin and guitar at an early age. When 15 years old, Ralph, playing mandolin, joined his brother Erwin on the road. They traveled around the country playing a music they called boogie, a country-rock-n-roll.

In the 1940s, another brother act, the Monroe Brothers, became aware of the Lewis Brothers, hearing them on the radio. Bill Monroe, after driving over to Madison County to meet the brothers, became close friends with them and acted as a mentor to Ralph.

Later, Ralph Lewis led his own band, the Carolina Pals, for many years and played with The Piney Mountain Boys also.

From 1951 to 1955 Lewis served in the US Navy on USS Hancock, working as a pipefitter and fire-fighter. During this period, the attack carrier, based at San Diego, California, operated exclusively along the Pacific coastline.

Remembering Ralph Lewis’s talents, Bill Monroe invited him to join the Blue Grass Boys, which he did in the summer of 1974. Lewis played guitar and sang lead with the Blue Grass Boys for almost two years. He played on Monroe’s album Weary Traveler, the tracks for which were recorded during three consecutive days in March 1975.

Together they toured Europe, Japan, and the United States, and appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry.

He left Monroe in order to spend more time with his family. He settled in the Ashville, North Carolina, area, and, taking advantage of his Naval experiences, he started the Lewis Refrigeration Co, based in Candler, North Carolina.

In his later years he was the leader of the Sons of Ralph group, playing with his sons Marty and Don, and recently also with Steve Moseley and Ozzie Orengo Jr. also.
The last Sons of Ralph public appearance with Ralph Lewis was in May, earlier this year.

Adept at both the high lonesome sound of bluegrass and the rhythms of rock and roll, as well as the haunting melodies of country music, Ralph Lewis’s music sounds as if it were carved out of the mountains themselves.

Here is Lewis’s strong rendition of Roustabout from a soundboard recording of Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys on stage in Birmingham, England, on April 30, 1975 …

Also featured are Monroe, Randy Davis (bass), Bob Black (banjo), and Kenny Baker (fiddle).

In 2001, Lewis received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award, which is given annually to “individuals who have made significant contributions to the folk traditions in the southern mountains.”

R.I.P. Ralph Lewis.

Arrangements – The funeral will take place at a later date at Madison Funeral Home, Marshall, North Carolina at 4:00 p.m.

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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.

  • My sympathy goes out to his family. I most recently saw Ralph perform earlier this year and he was going strong. A truly accomplished musician who will be dearly missed. One of the greats we will remember forever.