We often speak here about family bands, as they have been a part of bluegrass music from the very beginning. Among the first hillbilly groups to gain notoriety in the US were the hugely influential Carter Family, and The Stonemans. The template they set continues to thrive in both bluegrass and Gospel music, with one or both parents and multiple siblings forming the band.
Typically, the groups fade away as the children grow into adulthood and have other interests, but on rare occasions, groups like The Lewis Family continue over multiple generations.
Another that has survived over many years is The McLain Family Band, who are celebrating 50 years in the business next year. Started by Raymond K. McLain and his three children in 1968, the act grew to include two more siblings as they were old enough to perform, and they were a staple at bluegrass and folk events in the 1970s and ’80s. During that time they released 14 successful recordings, and performed all over the world for the US State Department. They were frequent guests on television programs where their squeaky-clean image fit the mold of what was being promoted during the folk music boom, and their home festival near Berea, KY was a favorite for both fans and entertainers alike.
At the start, papa Raymond K. played guitar, with eldest son Raymond W. on banjo, Alice on mandolin, and Ruth on bass. When younger siblings Nancy and Michael joined the group, they began swapping instruments around between songs, with most everyone getting some time on guitar, mandolin, and bass. Raymond W. also added fiddle to his repertoire.
Now fifty years on, The McLain Family Band still performs together as their schedules allow, and have created a marvelous pictorial history of their time together to celebrate the five decades.
Called The McLain Family Band – 50 Years of Music, the book contains more than 100 pages chock full of images from the band’s hey day to the present time. There are photos on stage and off, and in many of the far flung places they visited on State Department tours. Also included are many show posters, and biographical sections on all the members, plus their mother, Betty, who managed the group and traveled with them wherever they went. There is even a fold out, chronological map that shows all the 62 countries where they performed, starting with trips to Italy, Germany, and Belgium in 1972.
Anyone who remembers the McLains from the ’70s will enjoy seeing these hundreds of photos, as will people who recall that era with fondness. The book has a very complete index, and detailed descriptions of all the images. It sells for $25.