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!


About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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