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Dick Spottswood

[Joseph Emmett ]

(b Weaverville, NC, July 20, 1898; d Concord, NC, June 12, 1971). American singer, fiddler, and bandleader. A breakdown fiddler who played in an early country style similar to that of Fiddlin’ John Carson, J.E. and his younger brother Wade formed Mainers’ Mountaineers while both were full-time employees at a cotton mill in Concord, North Carolina. They performed informally until they appeared with the Lay Brothers on WSOC in nearby Gastonia. In 1934 they signed with Crazy Water Crystals, a laxative company that sponsored them on the powerful stations WBT (Charlotte) and WPTF (Raleigh) and provided enough exposure to let them become full-time performers. When Wade left to seek other opportunities in 1937, J.E. promptly formed a new band with Leonard “Handsome” Stokes, George Morris, and DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins, who was developing an advanced banjo style that anticipated the three-finger approach that Earl Scruggs perfected in the 1940s. Drinking problems led to J.E.’s band firing him in ...

Article

Dick Spottswood

[Eckhart ]

(b Buncombe County, NC, April 21, 1907; d Flint, MI, Sept 12, 2011). American singer, banjo player, guitarist, and bandleader. Formed Mainers’ Mountaineers with his brother J.E. from 1934–36 and thereafter with his own Sons of the Mountaineers, Mainer furthered the growth and development of mountain string band music in the 1930s. In an era that saw the rising popularity of western swing, honky-tonk, and Hollywood cowboy songs, the Mainers successfully recycled traditional tunes and kept the sound of rural fiddle and banjo prominent on Southeastern radio, in small performance venues, and on more than 150 recordings made for RCA between 1935 and 1941. Mainer versions of “Down in the Willow Garden,” “Wild Bill Jones,” “Riding on That Train 45,” “Maple on the Hill,” and “Old Ruben” became folk and bluegrass classics.

On invitation from Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, Mainer’s band performed in concert with the Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White, and Burl Ives at the White House in ...

Article

Gregory N. Reish

(James )

(b Sneedville, TN, Aug 10, 1927; d Nashville, TN, May 14, 2005). American bluegrass and country singer, guitarist, and bandleader. Known as the “King of Bluegrass,” Martin began his career as guitarist and lead singer of bill Monroe ’s Blue Grass Boys from late 1949 to 1954, also working occasionally with the Osborne Brothers. Martin contributed to some of the Blue Grass Boys’ most influential and highly regarded recordings for Decca during this period. In 1955, Martin formed his own group, the Sunny Mountain Boys. Based initially in Detroit, the band’s lineup featured the young Kentucky banjoist J.D. Crowe, joined later by mandolinist Paul Williams. In 1956, Martin signed with Decca, producing a string of country hits into the 1960s.

Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys presented a hard-edged style that appealed to a wide range of country music fans. His own driving rhythm guitar and highly expressive lead vocals, coupled with Williams’s pure high tenor harmony and Crowe’s blues-inflected banjo backup, produced some of the most memorable and commercially successful recordings of the era without the stylistic concessions to folk revivalism that other bluegrass bands were making. Their repertory included secular and often raucous Martin songs such as “You don’t know my mind” (Decca, ...

Article

Gregory N. Reish

(b York, PA, Feb 1, 1939). American bluegrass singer, guitarist, banjoist, and bandleader. In an era of bluegrass’s increasing eclecticism, McCoury emerged as a leading voice of bluegrass purism, simultaneously bringing the music to a wider audience through broad-minded collaborations. Growing up in York County, Pennsylvania, McCoury became proficient on guitar and banjo, playing the latter in the three-finger style popularized by Earl Scruggs. After working with regional bands in Pennsylvania and Maryland, McCoury joined bill Monroe ’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963, initially as baritone singer and banjoist, but later as a guitarist. McCoury remained with Monroe for one year, recording three songs as a Blue Grass Boy in January 1964.

Returning to Pennsylvania, McCoury formed The Dixie Pals in 1967. They maintained a busy part-time touring schedule and recorded albums for various labels. Most notable is High on a Mountain (Rounder, 1973), which showcases McCoury’s powerful and rustic vocal style and his emerging songwriting skills. McCoury’s teenaged sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) joined The Dixie Pals in the 1980s, bringing a new level of instrumental virtuosity to the band’s sound. In ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[Blinky ]

(b Frederiksted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Aug 17, 1934). Crucian guitarist, saxophonist, band leader, and singer. He was the son of Ivan McIntosh, a saxophonist active during the early 20th century, and Ethel McIntosh, a singer. He learned music from them as a youth and soon joined a “scratch band,” a local ensemble feature cane flute, gourd rasp, guitar, drum, and bass. By the age of 15, he had joined his father’s group as a guitarist, learning an older repertoire and touring widely throughout the island. During this same period, McIntosh learned traditional songs from his mother, who also encouraged him to study with local storytellers and folk performers. He also joined a carnival-oriented ensemble titled the Wild Indians. By 1955 he created his own “scratch band” called the Pond Bush Hot Shots. In the 1960s he was invited to become the lead alto sax player for the Joe Parris Hot Shots, the country’s leading quadrille group, with whom he recorded into the 1970s. Although he was an active musician during his life, McIntosh labored primarily for the Department of Public Works in St. Croix, as reflected in the name of his next band, Blinky and the Roadmasters (formed in ...

Article

Stephen D. Winick

[Michael ]

(b Limerick, Ireland, Nov 15, 1944). traditional Irish singer, mandolinist, banjo player, and bandleader of Irish birth. Moloney became interested in traditional Irish music as a university student. He began bringing his banjo and a tape recorder to music sessions in County Clare, where he met members of the Tulla Ceilidh band, as well as accordionist Tony MacMahon, fiddler Sean Keane (who would later join The Chieftains), banjo player Des Mulclair, and uilleann piper Willie Clancy. Inspired by the Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners, he and his friend Donál Lunny formed several folk groups. In the late 1960s, Moloney, along with his roommate, guitarist and singer Paul Brady, was asked to join the folk group the Johnstons, which performed a combination of traditional Irish songs and modern singer-songwriter material by such writers as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. They became immensely popular in Ireland, recorded many albums, and were able to tour widely on both sides of the Atlantic....

Article

John Bass

[Hezekiah Le Roy Gordon ]

(b Portsmouth, OH, Aug 13, 1909; d Munich, Germany, Sept 25, 1967). American jazz violinist, singer, and bandleader. Growing up in a musical family, Smith earned a scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University (North Carolina) but left in 1926 to join Aunt Jemima’s Revue. From 1927 to 1930, he played with the Alfonso Trent Band, serving as conductor, principal soloist, and occasional vocalist (recording “After You’ve Gone” in 1930). He moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1930 to lead his own group.

Smith moved to New York in 1936, where he led a sextet at the Onyx Club. The band moved to Los Angeles for a brief engagement at the Famous Door (1937–8) before disbanding. From 1938 to 1945, Smith formed several groups, working mostly in Chicago and New York, including another stint at Onyx (1944–5). Between 1945 and 1956, Smith toured and recorded with others (Sun Ra in ...

Article

Patrick Huber

[James Gideon ]

(b Thomas Bridge, near Monroe, GA, June 6, 1885; d Dacula, GA, May 13, 1960). American fiddler, singer, comedian, and hillbilly string band leader. He was a well-known entertainer in north Georgia during the early 20th century, famous for his outrageous comic antics, old-time fiddling, and trick singing. He competed regularly at Atlanta’s annual Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association conventions and won the state fiddling championship in 1928. In 1924, Columbia A&R man Frank B. Walker recruited Tanner and his sometime musical partner, the blind Atlanta street singer and guitarist Riley Puckett, to make some of the earliest recordings of what soon came to be called hillbilly music.

In 1926, Walker assembled a studio group around Tanner called the Skillet Lickers, whose other regular members consisted of guitarist and lead singer Puckett, fiddler Clayton McMichen, and banjoist Fate Norris. The band’s first release, “Bully of the Town”/ “Pass around the Bottle and We’ll all Take a Drink,” recorded in ...

Article

Chip Henderson

[Masawwir, Damu Mustafa Abdul ]

(b St. Matthews, SC, Feb 2, 1942). American electric guitarist, bandleader, composer, and vocalist. Ulmer grew up in a musical family. By the age of four he began to learn the guitar from his father. From the ages of seven to thirteen he played guitar and sang with his father’s gospel group, the Southern Sons. Ulmer moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1959 and began to immerse himself in the city’s rhythm and blues scene. From 1959 to 1964 Ulmer performed with the Del Vikings, the Savoys, and Jewel Brenner’s Swing Kings. In 1964 he moved to Columbus, Ohio. From 1964 to 1967 he studied jazz and performed with organist Hank Marr. Ulmer relocated to Detroit, Michigan, in 1967 and began his tenure with soul-jazz organist “Big” John Patton. During his time in Detroit (1967–71) Ulmer became interested in contemporary rock styles, including the music and tonal innovations of guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Soon after Ulmer moved to New York City in ...