The Music of the Stanley Brothers – Gary B Reid

The Music of the Stanley Brothers - Gary B ReidI have to declare upfront that I had a peek at an early draft of this book.

Also, over the years (from about 1981), I have watched Reid gather together the building materials that have gone towards the writing of The Music of the Stanley Brothers. 

These include, in no particular order, his acquisition of hymnals and song books; getting some live recordings and the Stanley Series; gaining access to the King/Starday recording logs for the Stanley Brothers’ box sets; writing notes for Bear Family issues of the Columbia and Mercury material and the Rounder re-releases of Rich-R-Tone recordings, with the award-winning notes for Time-Life’s Definitive collection of Stanley Brothers’ recordings supreme; expeditions to Tampa, Florida – to visit the headquarters of the Jim Walter Corporation where they allowed him to make copies of the Stanley Brothers radio shows for County and Rebel Records – to Cincinnati to find the exact site where photographs for LP covers were made; and to Wilmington, Delaware, to obtain a copy of the master tape from the Cabin Creek session.

All were activities that in themselves produced something tangible as well as information for this book.

This indicates a life-long love affair rather than just another project.

His provisional discography, published in 1984 was a sign of things to come.

Reid has amassed, and shares, a massive number of facts which is testimony to the depth of his research and knowledge.

Discussing, chronologically, the recordings sessions, he includes brief biographies of all the participants and notes the sources and/or history of the songs that they recorded. There is so much information to absorb!

Countering this are quotes from some of the players, and the strategic placement of the many black and white pictures also helps to break up the narrative.

The book is divided into five sections with an increasing number of recording sessions per era. The first section deals with the Rich-R-Tone years; the second concentrates on the Columbia recordings; then comes the Mercury Records era, 1953 to 1958; the fourth section is devoted to the Starday and early King records; and, finally, the last three years of the brothers’ partnership. Following the history are the session details for the period.

It appears as though nothing escapes Reid’s attention as he includes discussion of Carter Stanley’s four recordings with Bill Monroe even.

If making sense of the brothers’ recording career was complicated (as has been said elsewhere), Reid sorts it admirably. However, I found following the Wango recordings was bewildering, due, I think, to the lack of definite information about when exactly songs/tunes were recorded.

At the end are located the numerical listing of releases (and it is only in this section that I can find any fault with a minor problem in the layout and some omissions), some notes, a bibliography, a general index, and a song index.

Gary Reid - photo by Jake WoodThank you, Gary, for sharing your vast and very impressive knowledge. Even so early after its publication, The Music of the Stanley Brothers is rated the definitive work on this subject, and so it should be. For my part the book will always be close by my side and a constant place of reference.

The Music of the Stanley Brothers is available from all good book sellers, the usual on-line sources and direct from the author, from whom you can get an autographed copy.

  • Published by the University of Illinois Press, in the Music in American Life series
  • 978-0-252-08033-3
  • 312 pages
  • 51 black & white photographs

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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.