Wade Mainer, Laxatives, and the Grandfather of Bluegrass?

This, from an exchange with Wayne Erbsen and Jim Nelson on Facebook this morning (20 January, 2016), regarding the great singer, banjo player and band leader Wade Mainer:

Wade Mainer - banjo

Wade Mainer, ca. 1938

Jim referenced Wade’s recording of “Down In The Willow Garden”

Wayne Erbsen Thanks, Jim! I think Wade told me he learned it from his sister but I might remembering wrong. I’m thinking that Zeke Morris told me he learned it from Wade Mainer and that Charlie Monroe learned it from him, but again, my memory may be playing tricks on me.

Peter Feldmann Wade Mainer and his “Sons Of The Mountaineers” was one of the first string band records I ever heard (in 1961). It was part of a reissue album titled “Smokey Mountain Ballads”, produced for Victor by Alan Lomax on a 78 RPM album — 78s (Bluebird) reissued on other 78s (Victor). Little did I know then that I’d have the pleasure of meeting Wade and Julia, and hanging out with them for a few days, playing the music. BTW – I LOVE the E major chord!

Wayne Erbsen I’m still trying to wrap my head around that E major chord. If charlie learned it from Zeke who learned it from Wade, maybe it was Charlie who added the E minor chord. You think?

Jim Nelson Most likely.

Peter Feldmann Charlie was always the more modern type of musician :-), while his brother preferred the “ancient tones”. 

Wade told me once, BTW, that Bill asked him to play banjo for the Blue Grass Boys  . . . this was before Stringbean. Wade turned him down; didn’t want to become a sideman.

Wayne Erbsen That’s really interesting! I’ve never heard that. That would have been in the early ’40s. Along with Snuffy, I’m pretty sure Bill would have run across Wade when Bill first moved to Asheville in 1938, or probably even earlier when Bill and Charlie and and Wade and JE all played on the Crazy Water Barn Dance in Charlotte. I bet Snuffy and Wade made Bill realize that he wanted a banjo in his next band. A lot of people don’t realize that Wade’s banjo playing could really be on fire, and even sounded more or less like Earl or Snuffy. His banjo was down in the “mix” on many of his records, but have you heard the transcription LP that was issued of Wade’s audition for WWNC radio? He picked the fire out of the banjo and you can really hear how powerful a player he could be. If Wade had swallowed his pride and joined Bill, bluegrass as we know it would be propelled by two finger picking. Without Bill hiring Earl, there would not have been no Flatt and Scruggs. Earl was planning on going back to the mill and would have done it if wasn’t for Jim Shumate convincing him he should try out for Monroe. Getting back to Wade, he was the biggest star western North Carolina had to offer. Zeke told me they would play in school houses, and play two shows in one night. After the first show they would usher everybody out, and most of the same people would pay their 25 or 50 cents to come back for the second show. I’ve always said that the real father or grandfather of bluegrass is Wade. If the father or grandfather (Wade) would have gotten into bed (so to speak) with Bill (the father), I wonder who their love child would have been? But I digress.

Peter Feldmann Yes sir! This is one of the topics I still wake up at 4 in the AM to think about! smile emoticon Though I don’t think I have heard the record you mention, I can testify that Wade picked one hell of a banjer. Thanks for your thoughts. If we set Wade as the Grandfather of Bluegrass, and Bill as the father, we then come to the role that Crazy Water Crystals – a laxative! – played in the scene as a sponsor. Charlie even stared his own laxative company (Man-O-Ree) a few years later. I suppose this makes him the Uncle of bluegrass.

 Wayne Erbsen I’d like to open this discussion of Mainer/Monroe/Scruggs up to other Facebook friends, but I’m not sure how to get it out there to them. Do you? Then a bunch of us can all wake up at 4 AM.

We would all welcome your comments!


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Carolina Ramblers String Band: An unissued test!

In the mid 1930s, Columbia Masterworks issued two multi-disc albums titled The Columbia History Of Music By Ear And Eye.  One side of a disc in series II was supposed to feature selections from Frederick Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No. 8.  

Due to a serendipitous mix-up by a Columbia technician, a test pressing of the old mountain song Cumberland Gap, recorded on February 16th, 1932, was placed on the disc instead of the performance shown on the label.  The performance was by the Carolina Ramblers String band, with Steve Ledford on fiddle, along with some rare downstroke banjo by Daniel Nicholson, along with vocals and very Riley Pucket-sounding guitar runs by Audie Rogers.  So, we now have an additional song by this fairly rare string band!

Cumberland Gap – Carolina Ramblers – 1932


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So. California bluegrass history: . . . continued

We’ve had some nice comments re. the previous page on Southern California bluegrass groups, and received further information on other groups active in the region in the 1960s.  (Keep those memories and photos coming!)

John Egenes sends a photo of what we called an EP (extended play) record release (331/3rd RPM, 7 inch disc) by the Dry City Scat Band – “The band that made bluegrass obsolete”, which included six short numbers by Steve Cahill (guitar), “Dick” Greene (fiddle, mandolin), David Lindley (banjo, fiddle), and Pete Madlem (Dobro, banjo).


Dry City Scat Band – EP release


Dry City Scat Band – EP reverse








The album art is credited to Lindley. The black square in front may have held a photo, but knowing David, it might just have been a black square!  . . . 🙂

John mentions a connection with Chris Darrow as well, and just by coincidence, I received a nice email from Chris with some photos of his duo with Bob Warford.  Chris writes: “Here’s picture of Warford and I from 1965. He and I went to high school together and he was in a number of bands with me including my first band, the Reorganized Dry City Players shown here. We started in the 1962-1963 period. And also was in a band called the Mad Mt. Ramblers with me, Lindley and Steve Cahill.”


Chris and Warford

Chris Darrow & Bob Warford

MMR ad - Key June 20-27 1963 m copy[2]

Mad Mountain Ramblers – clip

Mad Mt. Ramblers [2]

Mad Mountain Ramblers – 1962/63










If I remember correctly, Darrow and Lindley later  formed the rock group Kaleidoscope, and I remember performing with them at a music festival in the San Bernardino / Claremont area with my band The Scragg Family, around 1966 or 67.

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Southern California Bluegrass Bands: Beginings

Golden State Boys - Vern, Bobby Sloan, Skip, Don Parmley, Hal Poindexter- Rex Gosdin

Golden State Boys – Vern Gosdin, Bobby Slone, Skip Conover, Don Parmley, Hal Poindexter- and Rex Gosdin. This is the line-up that lasted from late 1962 into mid-1963, when Bobby joined the Kentucky Colonels. They cut the unreleased Bluegrass From Hollywood LP at the studios of radio station KFOX. Deejay Hugh Cheery was involved, but I don’t know if he was behind the console or wrote the projected liner notes. I’ve only ever heard a tape made from an acetate pressing that was given to me by Steve Wisner who got his copy from one of the GSBs. To this day I don’t know if any test pressings, pressings or anything was actually made up. I have no idea why Skip isn’t in uniform… this pic was from Larry Rice.

Southern California, with its vast film studios, television production facilities, radio, and recording studios, deservedly holds the title of the entertainment capitol of the world. The musical style called “bluegrass” (named after Bill Monroe’s band The Blue Grass Boys, while overshadowed by the hugely successful pop music business, still managed to find its way out to the coast from the central southern states back east.  Capitalizing on his success on the post war Grand Ol’ Opry, Bill Monroe himself traveled to California, starting in the 1950s.

Golden State Boys-1964

The Golden State Boys in April of 1964: Bob Warford (banjo), Bobby Slone (fiddle). Hal Poindexter (lead vocal and guitar), [kneeling] , Eric White (bass), and Larry Rice (mandolin). Returning Golden State Boy Slone had just left the Kentucky Colonels that same month. This version of the band played on the Cal’s Corral television show broadcast from the Huntington Park Ballroom, Huntington Park, California, every Sunday afternoon. On the television show, Skip Conover would occasionally play Dobro.

Golden State Boys-1964-promo-1

The Golden State Boys in 1964. For this promo shoot we have Bob Warford on banjo, Hal Poindexter (lead vocal and guitar), Bobby Slone on fiddle, and seated on his bass, Eric White. Larry Rice also played mandolin with the band, but due to his young age, wasn’t always able to play with the band. One would assume this photo is to reflect the fact that the group was sometimes a four-piece outfit.

golden state boys - early days

Golden State Boys 1961: Herb Rice (mandolin, vocals), Leon Poindexter (bass, dobro), Hal Poindexter (guitar, vocals), Walter Poindexter (banjo)

The four photos shown here are of a well-known California band, The Golden State Boys.  The band was featured in southern California television for several years by car dealer Cal Worthington on Cal’s Corral, a TV show running old films are some very strange car commercials — often with wild animals  — besides featuring country music by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis and others.  The photos, and most of the info in the captions, have been supplied by Jason Odd, an Australian whose interest in the music evolved from his interest in the California rock and country rock scene from the early 1960s on.  Jason can be reached via FaceBook, where he maintains several music-related pages re. music history.

Watching these programs, as they were originally telecast on Los Angeles’ KCOP, Channel 13 station, I was drawn in to the music.  I don’t remember Cal mentioning it by the name “bluegrass” during the show.  It was simply “country” music, just as Bill Monroe was, in those times, considered a country star, like Earnest Tubb, Kitty Wells, and Pee Wee King, for example.

Now that we’ve opened the door just a crack into the past of California’s bluegrass scene, I’d like to encourage others to share their knowledge and photos, etc.  It’s our hope that we can establish a relatively permanent place to store and review this part of California’s music history.

To share and comment on this page, feel free to use the form below.  Thanks again to Jason for supplying copies of photos and his time.

-Peter Feldmann

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