Paying Tribute to a Bluegrass Legend
Bands Gather at the Paramount Center to Honor Dr. Ralph Stanley
By TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | April 19, 2010*** Published in the Bristol Herald Courier on April 12, 2010. ***
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Just a little man with a mountainous legacy.
Friends and neighbors, that's Ralph Stanley.
Sixty-three years after he first played in Bristol with his late brother, Carter, Stanley was honored in a tribute Sunday afternoon at the Paramount Center here.
Presented by the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance to benefit the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center in Clintwood, Va., the show featured a mix of country, bluegrass and gospel music with a dash of Hollywood tossed in, too.
Call it a tribute to a titan.
Stanley's 17-year-old grandson, Nathan Stanley, organized, emceed, and sang a pack of fine songs.
"I want to make this an annual thing, paying tribute to my papaw, Dr. Ralph Stanley," Nathan Stanley said.
Stanley and his wife sat in the audience, on an aisle in the third row. Sometimes he grinned, as when his grandson stepped on stage. Most often, he listened attentively. From Paul Williams and the Victory Trio's spirited bluegrass-by-the-Bible set through Stella Parton's no-I'm-not-my-sister-Dolly-but-I-sing-too set, Stanley seemed to enjoy his day.
Highlights included Williams' plaintive plea "Sinner Don't Wait." The singer, called the best lead singer he ever had by the late Jimmy Martin, backed it up. He didn't jump around or holler, but he sang like his soul depended on it.
Parton toned it down. She sang her own songs, from the evocative "Up in the Holler," and those of her sister, Dolly, including "Coat of Many Colors." At times, she recalled her sister, with her butterfly-flitting voice on "Smooth Talker."
Like everyone else, Parton came to honor Ralph Stanley.
That included Stanley's son, Ralph Stanley II. While his little son, Ralph Stanley III, stood in the wings and rocked to his daddy's songs, the son of the man of the mountains offered a quick set from "Daddy's Dinner Bucket" to a whiplash and whirling "Train 45."
Tim Stafford, from Kingsport, Tenn., backed by Stanley's famed Clinch Mountain Boys, followed a short intermission. From "John Henry Blues" and the Stanley Brothers' "Another Night," Stafford stunned. Ah, then he cranked the goods with "Over in the Glory Land." Check that one as high-octane gospel from an under appreciated master in Stafford.
Then there was Jack Greene. The longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry eased on stage with care. "Highway to the Sky" kicked in, and he sang as if his voice had taken flight. His voice soared, particularly with "There Goes My Everything" and "Statue of a Fool." Greene grabbed the audience by the ear and they roared with a standing ovation.
Stanley's tribute added a grin when Ben "Cooter" Jones ambled on stage. Best known for his role as fun-loving mechanic "Cooter" on television classic, "The Dukes of Hazzard," Jones dipped into Buck Owens' catalog for "Act Naturally" and Hank Williams' gold mine for "Jambalaya."
Just a good ol' boy, that's Ben "Cooter" Jones. He and Ralph Stanley II traveled back to Hazzard County for Waylon Jennings' "Theme From the Dukes of Hazzard [Good Ol' Boys]."
Then Stanley took to the stage to sing. With his legendary band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, in tow, Stanley launched into a mountain-hoppin' "Little Maggie." At 83, Stanley emotes like no other.
Then the Clinch Mountain Boys took a few steps back. Folks backstage ceased chattering. Ben "Cooter" Jones took his yellow Cooter's Garage cap off, bowed his head and paid quiet homage to the man of the hour and the song that was to come.
Stanley creaked open the lid on "Oh Death." The crowd reverently quieted. Sans band, Stanley clasped his hands and stood like a flesh-and-bone statue as his voice wavered from a whisper to a wail.
The cotton-haired haymaker packed a heavyweight punch to the collective heart and soul with harrowing lyrics made for his voice of the ages. And he sang it like the one man who was made to sing such songs.
So go the makings of the king of mountain music.
One of a kind king of the mountains, that's Ralph Stanley, folks.