The Big 2-0 for James Alan Shelton

James Alan Shelton with Ralph Stanley, February 2014 - photo by Laura FordJames Alan Shelton is coming up on a major milestone, marking 20 years as a member of Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. In a time when few bands last two decades, this is something to really be proud of.

His is the third longest career with Ralph. It’s conceivable that James could catch up to Curly Ray Cline’s 26 years, but is not likely to beat the 40 years Jack Cooke spent with the band.

With this milepost on the horizon, James shared a few thoughts about his start, and his tenure with the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys at Poppy Mountain (September 2001)“It had been my life’s dream to play lead guitar for Ralph Stanley when I went to one of his shows at the Old Rock School in Valdese, NC in February of 1994.

It seems that Junior Blankenship and Ernie Thacker were leaving to form their own band so Ralph was looking for replacements. I told him I was available and the following week I was on his bus heading to Northfield, MN for my first show, which was on Friday, March 4, 1994. It took two days to get there and we played two sets and turned around and came home. That was my introduction to being a traveling musician.

In the band at that time were Ralph, Ralph II, Jack Cooke, Art Stamper and Kenneth Davis. Kenneth hired on at the same time I did to play rhythm guitar and sing lead.

It was great to get to pick with all of the talented Clinch Mountain Boys that came through the band over the years and I think we made a lot of good music together. I am very thankful to Ralph to have been given the opportunity to live out my dream and maybe contribute a small part to the history of the Stanley Sound.

James Alan Shelton - photo by Bryan AakerIn his own way Ralph is a great teacher, he goes about his business in a very professional manner and it has been a valuable learning experience to be able to travel with him and observe how he does things. I’ve been able to travel all over the United States and several foreign countries, and have met a lot of wonderful people along the way.

When you think about all of the fine musicians who have been Clinch Mountain Boys since 1946, it is a lot to live up to. I’m sure that Ralph knows that I have always given it my best.”

During his time with Ralph, James has also served as road manager. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been to keep the crosspicking guitar style pioneered by George Shuffler alive to this day.

Well done, James Alan Shelton.

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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.