A little over a year ago, 88-year-old Bluegrass Hall of Famer Ralph Stanley called me as he was mourning the loss of his long-time guitarist George Shuffler. Ralph and his brother Carter made American Roots music history in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s as The Stanley Brothers. For more than two decades, Shuffler played guitar for The Stanley Brothers, innovating a playing style for Bluegrass guitar called “crosspicking.” Cincinnati will forever be a part of The Stanley Brothers’ history, as the siblings recorded some of their most important albums in the Queen City for King Records (2003’s expansive compilation The King Years 1961-1965 contained most of their locally recorded music). Legendary King owner Syd Nathan was not a big fan of fiddles, banjos or mandolins, so he wanted more guitar on their recordings. That is when Shuffler’s crosspicking guitar technique was turned up in the mix and history was made, influencing generations of Bluegrass guitarists to follow. I asked Ralph about traveling from all parts south to Cincinnati to record here on Brewster Avenue. “We just done it, you know, and we didn’t say nothing about it,” Stanley said about the long drives. “We didn’t kick on it or nothing. It was hard, but we did it. When we’d go to record [at King Records], we’d record sometimes one album and sometimes two, and we may have recorded three.” When Stanley — who played the Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine for CityBeat’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards celebration of King in 2008 and again for 2012’s MidPoint Music Festival — performs in Newport this week, it will mark more than half a century of trips to Greater Cincinnati to make hall-of-fame mountain music.
RALPH STANLEY WITH NATHAN STANLEY AND THE CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS perform 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Thompson House. Get more information and purchase tickets here.