When Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys performed at the Mid Pointe Music Festival in Cincinnati on September 29, they also shot a video for a local outfit that is restoring the old Emery Theatre there in town.
Videographer Michael Wilson met the band on the stage of the now empty theater for an episode of The Emery Sessions, a series of music video performances being produced to publicize the restoration effort.
As it happens, The Stanley Brothers have a history in Cincinnati, both from recording there for King Records and playing the Emery Theatre back in the 1950s. When Wilson reached out to Stanley about coming over to shoot while the band was in town, James Alan Shelton (road manager and lead guitarist with the Clinch Mountain Boys) tells us he readily agreed, and they cut Train 45 like Ralph and Carter used to do it.
“We had played there several years ago as part of a celebration honoring the history of King Records. At that time they were getting a plaque installed in front of the old King Records site. With Ralph’s tie-in to Cincinnati through being part of King Records history plus the fact that he had played there with Carter, Michael thought he would be a good candidate for the video series. Ralph agreed to do it and thought it would be good publicity for the band, as well as helping the folks who are trying to raise awareness of the Emery restoration project.
It was all done with one camera and one mic for the band and another mic for Ralph’s spoken intro. We just gathered in a circle after sound check in the middle of the stage in an empty old theatre and played the song.
I thought it turned out pretty well.”
Shelton says that the video was also special for him, as it captured him playing a guitar with a 66-year-old Stanley connection.
“The guitar I’m playing in the video is the 1941 D-28 Martin that belonged to Roy Sykes, who was Carter Stanley’s brother-in law (they married sisters).
When Carter got out of the army sometime in 1946, he joined Roy’s band which was called Roy Sykes & The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. He used this guitar during his time in the Sykes band and I have attached a couple of photos with Carter holding it in pictures taken outside the WNVA radio studio in Norton, VA in the summer of ’46.
When Ralph was released from the army in October of 1946, he also joined the Sykes band. This only lasted about two or three weeks and Ralph decided he was not happy with the situation and decided to leave the band. He and Carter then formed their own group which of course was The Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys. I cannot say for sure but I suspect that he might have still been using this guitar when they joined WCYB in Bristol in December of that year.
When Roy Sykes passed away several years ago, his son Roy Sykes, Jr. inherited the guitar. I had been aware of the guitar for several years and finally got a chance to see it up close and play it about two years ago. I began an email correspondence with Roy, Jr. and casually mentioned that if he ever wanted to sell the guitar that I would like a shot at buying it. I really never thought he would part with it but one day he sent an email saying that he needed some money and was willing to let it go.
In February of 2011 I traded him another Martin guitar plus a rather large sum of money for the Sykes/Stanley guitar. It has a large scratched up place on the top of the guitar right below the fingerboard where Carter dug it out with his fingerpick. It is an exceptionally good sounding instrument.
I took it to luthier John Arnold in Newport, TN and he did a neck re-set and some set up work. I do not take it out on the road a lot but occasionally I will take it out because I think something like that should be shared. Other musicians really get a kick out of seeing the old guitar and are just in awe of the history behind it.
I’m actually taking it out again this weekend because we are doing a show with the Seldom Scene on Saturday, and I promised Ben Eldridge the last time we worked together that he could play it on stage. He does one or two songs on the guitar in their show.”
What a beautiful piece of bluegrass history! It seems especially appropriate that James should end up with that storied guitar.