Stanley Brothers featured on commemorative SamJam bourbon bottle

Since last year, SamJam Bluegrass festival organizers Sam Karr and Rick Greene have helped promote the festival in a uniquely Kentucky way. They have teamed up with a craft distillery in the commonwealth to produce a special edition bourbon bottle, featuring an iconic figure in bluegrass music.

The commemorative bottle for 2020 will feature the Stanley Brothers. Karr says that they have worked with the family to produce this honor.

“There are a lot of criteria that must be met for us to choose a particular act for the bourbon bottle. In this case, I had to work closely with Ralph Stanley II, Jeanie Stanley and the Stanley family, and we are proud to be able to profile the Stanley Brothers, who are of course one of the most influential acts in not just bluegrass music history, but all music history.”

Proceeds from the bottle help finance SamJam’s Youth Music Camp, which is executed in conjunction with the Glenville State University bluegrass program. These special edition bottles also allows SamJam to honor those who have made an indelible mark in bluegrass.

Greene knows that many people will collect these bottles, and likes how they can serve as a piece of the historical record.

“These musicians are important figures in American music. We like the idea that when people see these bottles, it starts a conversation about the greatness of these people who shaped bluegrass music. This bourbon bottle project not only assists us in growing the festival, it allows us to pay homage to the forefathers. Some artists might not like the idea of being on a bourbon bottle, but we hope as this grows that people will see this for what it is, a totally respectful gesture aimed at celebrating their contributions.”

Karr and Greene said the Stanley Brothers had a profound impact on the music, and on them personally.

Stanley Brothers accolades are hard to categorize.

In 1946, Carter and Ralph Stanley along with Pee Wee Lambert, and Bobby Sumner, set out to radio station WNVA in Norton, Virginia to perform professionally for the first time. Norton was a small coal town and they had a 15-minute spot at 7:00 a.m.

The band’s first sponsor was the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores. At the time, Carter and Ralph didn’t have a name for their band. Ralph is quoted as saying, “A lot of bands used to take their name from their sponsor, but this wasn’t the right sort of name to use, much as I liked pigs and all.”

Soon after, a new sponsor came on-board, The Clinch Valley Insurance Company. The Clinch Mountain Boys were born. The brothers performed for 20 years, recording dozens of albums, and performing all over the world. Their upbringing in the mountains of Southwest Virginia provided the foundation for the old time, mountain sound for which the brothers are known.

On December 1, 1966, Carter Stanley died at age 41 and for the next 50 years Ralph would carry on, keeping the music of The Stanley Brothers alive. There have been efforts for years to induct The Stanley Brothers into The Country Music Hall of Fame, which many believe is justified based on how their music helped shape bluegrass music, and influence contemporary country music.

Carter’s daughter, Jeanie Stanley, says that the Stanley descendants are proud to see the Brothers recognized in this way.

“The children of Carter Stanley are proud to see our father and uncle’s name (the Stanley Brothers) being used to support the SamJam Bluegrass Festival youth music camp. An integral part of festival, the camp provides learning opportunities for young musicians from ages 5 to 18. The camp is sponsored in part from the sale of a limited edition Kentucky bourbon that each year bears the imprint of a noted bluegrass personality. We are very proud that the 2020 offering is dedicated to the Stanley Brothers. From 1946 to 1966, the Stanley Brothers helped lay the foundations for what we know today as bluegrass music. The duo ended with our father’s untimely passing on December 1, 1966, but their music and legacy continue, more popular today than ever. We are pleased that the names of Carter and Ralph Stanley — through the youth camp — continue to be an inspiration to new generations of bluegrass musicians.”

SamJam introduced the commemorative bottle series in 2019, highlighting J.D. Crowe. The distillery, Bourbon 30, is a craft operation in Georgetown, KY, that is owned and operated by Jeff Mattingly.

Karr and Greene offer special thanks to Gary Reid and Chris Smith on this project.

Only 100 bottles are made available to the public. If interested in making a donation and acquiring one of the bottles, contact Karr at (812) 699-0962 or Greene at (740) 547-9059.

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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.