The Story Behind The Song – Home in the Mountains

Home in the Mountains was written by Rick Stanley, a cousin of bluegrass master Ralph Stanley and the husband of Donna Ulisse, a prolific songwriter in her own right. He was just 15 years old at the time it was composed. 

This song appears a few recordings, not the least of which is The Stanley Tradition (Doobie Shea DS-CD 1001) that was nominated for a Grammy in 1996 with Charlie Sizemore on lead vocals. 

However, the first recording was by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (Keith Whitley [vocals/guitar], Danny Marshall [mandolin], Ed Harris [bass] and Curly Ray Cline [fiddle]) on February 16, 1976, at Track Recorders Inc. in Silver Spring, Maryland.  

It was released on Ralph Stanley’s Old Home Place LP in 1976 (Rebel SLP-1562); though now available on CD, on Great High Mountain (Rebel CD 1130, released in 2004). 

Rick Stanley remembers clearly those youthful days ……. 

“From my earliest memories my father, Richard E. Stanley played the Stanley Brothers music constantly throughout our house. I grew up listening to all the greats in bluegrass. I was extra lucky because anytime Carter and Ralph were anywhere near Portsmouth, Virginia, they would come by with the whole band and stay for days at a time at mom and dad’s house. I was so fortunate to have had the chance to get to know Carter a little. He is still so sharp in my memories. Carter would ask me to be his shotgun rider when he needed to go places while he and Ralph were staying there. I also had to give up my bedroom because I had bunk beds and a couch in my room and Ralph, Carter and Chick Stripling would take over. I think I slept out on our back porch but that was fine by me. There were many jam sessions in our living room and I heard the songs I loved live, like Stone Walls and Steel Bars, The Fields Have Turned Brown and White Dove. I was also learning my way around my daddy’s Martin guitar, making my sisters crazy with my constant work on the G-run. So, when I decided I wanted to try and write a song I just thought it would have to include tragedy, my momma, the mountains, and a boy craving a bigger world.

I was living in Portsmouth where I was born, but spent many summers at our family farm in Clintwood, Virginia. That was the home this song was loosely based on. I wrote what came naturally to my 15-year-old self. I was dreaming of being older so that I could do what I wanted and out came the first line …’When I turned 21…’. There is a creek and also the Cranes Nest River that runs close to the land. I have no idea who Jeanie is, I just conjured her up in my mind but God Bless her soul, she went in the Cranes Nest and was never seen again….lol….lonesome.

The song came pretty quickly, and as it was my first attempt, I ran it by my dad, who was a fiddle player and great lover of this music. He really liked the song and he told me he wanted to put a call in to his cousin Ralph and see if he might be interested in cutting the song. Actually, I wrote two songs, one was titled Kentucky Tears that we also sent to Ralph so that he could pass it along to Bill Monroe. I wrote the second song with Bill in mind. Ralph however, changed the title to Fallen Tears and cut it on the same album as Home In The Mountains. I was excited. Imagine being 15 years old and having the first two songs I had ever written cut by none other than Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys with Keith Whitley singing the lead. Their arrangement was great and I can remember hearing it with my dad and having to pinch myself.

A little something funny….in those days the record labels didn’t send comp copies to the song-writers so my dad went out and bought The Old Home Place album the minute it was released, and we shared that listening session together in the front room of our home.

This song has been a continued blessing. It’s been cut by quite a few artists and I have enjoyed each rendition. It was a great honor to have it be part of the Stanley Tradition Album that was nominated for a Grammy. I NEVER let Donna forget that…lol. Of course, Don Rigsby’s version is killer. I was touched that Ralph actually helped Don select this song as part of The Doctors Orders! Ralph’s involvement means a lot to me.”

Home in the Mountains

© Rick Stanley (ASCAP/Pop’n Paw Music)

When I turned 21 my life was before me
Not thinking of others I left on my own
I’ve roamed this old land, took the good with the bad
But I still can’t remember just why I left home

Now I’m going back to my home in the mountains
Back to the one I left long ago
Standing alone on the banks of the river
Crying and weeping please take me along

As I wander on back to my home in the mountains
Nothing has changed, it still feels so right
When I hug momma I asked her, “Where’s Jeanie?”
She said she never came back from the river that night

Now I’m going back to my home in the mountains
Back to the one I left long ago
Standing alone on the banks of the river
Crying and weeping please take me along

Copyright reserved
Reprinted with permission.

As Rick Stanley says, another recording of Home in the Mountains has been by Don Rigsby (on the album Doctor’s Orders; Rebel REB-CD-1841, recorded in 2013).  

In the spring of 1999 Ralph Stanley II recorded the song with his father playing banjo, John Rigsby (vocals and fiddle), Jack Cooke (bass), James Allen Shelton (guitar) and Junior Blankenship (guitar). It’s the second track on the CD Pretty Girls, City Lights (Rebel CD-1760, released in 2000).

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys show how well-suited Home in the Mountains is as part of their repertoire…..

Other songs written by Stanley include Sweet Miss Dixie Deen, co-written with Rebekah Long and Donna Ulisse; Come To Jesus Moment and Weep Little Willow, Weep (both recorded by The Larry Stephenson Band); All The Way To Bethlehem (recorded by Donna Ulisse), and Wilma Walker (recorded by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver), all written with Donna Ulisse. 

Stanley is teaching song-writing at the Lil House Song-writing Workshops in Lebanon, where he lives in Tennessee. 

He has recorded with his group Bad Ridge – You Can’t Smoke the Bluegrass (Honey Camp Records 100101, 2000) – and is currently leader of Donna Ulisse’s band The Poor Mountain Boys. 

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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.