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Bgrass, Inc.

NAGER, LARRY          
Larry Nager began as a professional musician playing bass for the Katie Laur Band, Red Allen & the Kentuckians, and the Allen-Lilly Band.  He became nationally known as a music critic, covering all types of music for the Cincinnati Post for eight years, the Memphis Commercial Appeal for four years, and the Cincinnati Enquirer for eight years.  He created and produced the Cammy Awards Show which annually honors Cincinnati musicians in all fields of music, including bluegrass.  He wrote the documentary film “Bill Monroe:  Father of Bluegrass Music” and authored the book “Memphis Beat” which chronicles the rich music history of all types of music in Memphis.

NAPIER, BILL  (1935-2000)          
Bill Napier started with the Stanley Brothers in the late 1950s, playing mandolin, performing comedy as “Dad” Napier, and cutting some of the Stanleys’ last Mercury records.  Napier  switched to lead guitar when they went with King Records in Cincinnati and Syd Nathan wanted a new distinctive sound for the band.  He partnered  with Charlie Moore in 1960 and played both lead guitar and banjo.  They released one single, “Big Daddy of the Blues” on Wayne Raney’s American label, and then went with King Records where they recorded at least nine albums.  After the duo split, Napier relocated to Michigan, where he recorded sporadically.

NATHAN, SYDNEY “SYD”  (1904-1968)                   
Syd Nathan founded King Records in Cincinnati, he operated King Records, he was King Records.  When Syd died, King might as well have ceased to exist.  He was loud, gruff, and hard to get along with, but he knew how to market records and was a genius at capitalizing on current events.  Because King did everything in-house, there was little lag time between recording and getting the records on the street.  When a little girl in California became trapped in a well in 1949, newspapers nationwide followed the rescue attempts until she was found dead.  Syd rushed Jimmie Osborne into the studio and recorded “The Death of Little Kathy Fiscus” and had the records in record shops in just over a week.  He had black performers record country songs and bluegrass musicians record rhythm and blues songs.   His biggest contribution to bluegrass was his prolific recording of the Stanley Brothers, Don Reno & Red Smiley, Moore & Napier, and other early artists.  In 1996, Syd Nathan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and in 2006, he was named to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor.

NEELY, BERNICE (SPARKS)  (c.1937-)        
Bernice Neely is Larry Sparks’ older sister, and got him started playing guitar.  She and Larry performed together as a duet in church and on the radio as they were growing up.  When Larry formed the Lonesome Ramblers, Bernice played rhythm guitar and sang harmony in the first band, and recorded with Larry on his first Pine Tree album.  She wrote a number of bluegrass standards which originated with Larry’s recordings.

Louise Osborne Williams is the sister of Bob and Sonny Osborne.  She and Sonny appeared at WPFB in Middletown while Bob was in Korea.  The two records the Osbornes did on Kitty were issued under her name, one as Lou Osborne and the Osborne Family, and the other as Lou and Sonny Osborne and the Stoney Mountain Boys.  Louise wrote all four of the songs and sang on the records.  One of the songs was “New Freedom Bell” which was later recorded and popularized by the Country Gentlemen.  Louise authored other songs, including “You’ll Never Be the Same,” and “Blue Eyed Darling,” released by Jimmy Martin and Bob Osborne in 1951.  Her son, Dana Williams, plays bass and sings with Diamond Rio, a leading country band.

Bobby Osborne  has become an acknowledged master of the bluegrass mandolin, and his high lead singing has caused many a chill over the five-plus decades that he and Sonny performed together as the Osborne Brothers.   He began his professional music career around 1947 at WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, with a group he called the Miami Valley Playboys.  Bobby’s idol at the time was Ernest Tubb, and he was singing in the Ernest Tubb style and playing electric guitar.  He met Galax, Virginia-born banjo player Larry Richardson at WPFB, and soon the two of them left for West Virginia to seek fame and fortune.  They played on radio in Welch, West Virginia as the Silver Saddle Boys and later worked with Rex and Eleanor Parker in Bluefield, West Virginia, eventually landing a job with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.  They cut four sides on Cozy Records, with “Pain In My Heart” becoming a bluegrass classic.  This record received a lot of radio airplay in Dayton.  After Larry Richardson left, Jimmy Martin and Bobby cut four sides for King Records in Cincinnati, backed by the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, but issued as by Jimmy Martin and Bob Osborne.  It was at this time that Bobby began playing mandolin, because Jimmy wanted to be the guitar player.  At roughly the same time, Bobby, Sonny, and Louise Osborne and probably Jimmy Martin cut the four issued Kitty sides for Ott Ginter at the Osborne farm house.  Bobby recorded some of the Gateway and Kentucky sides with Sonny during and after his Marine Corps duty which took him to Korea, where he received a Purple Heart when he was wounded in action.  Later he and Sonny got together with Jimmy Martin and worked at WPFB and WJR in Detroit as Jimmy Martin & the Osborne Brothers, and recorded six songs for RCA Victor.  After splitting with Jimmy, Bobby and Sonny and Red Allen secured an MGM Records contract.  Their “Once More” was the first song recorded with their newly invented high-lead style of trio harmony.  “Ruby,” with its sustained high note on the title word, would drive the crowds wild, and was Bobby’s signature song until “Rocky Top” came along.  After Red Allen departed, Bobby and Sonny worked together as the Osborne Brothers, recording with MGM, then Decca (MCA), CMH, Sugar Hill, and Pinecastle.  After Sonny’s retirement from the road in the early 2000s, Bobby continued on as Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top Express, recording for OMC and Rounder.

Sonny Osborne gained some early fame by playing banjo and recording with Bill Monroe in 1952, when he was only 14 years old.  Earlier, Sonny and his sister Louise had worked at WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, and cut two singles on Ott Ginter’s Kitty label of Miamisburg, along with Bobby Osborne and probably Jimmy Martin.  When Sonny returned to Dayton from his stint with Monroe, he put together a band that recorded bargain covers of bluegrass hits as well as some original material for Kentucky and Gateway Records in Cincinnati.  This went on sporadically from late 1952 until early 1956, and eventually totaled approximately 50 sides.  One of the recordings, “Sunny Mountain Chimes,” was a bona fide hit in the Cincinnati area, selling a reported 67,000 copies.  The band originally included Enos Johnson on mandolin and Carlos Brock on guitar and was billed on record as Sonny Osborne & his Sunny Mountain Boys.  Several bass players were used and Bobby Osborne and Red Allen showed up on some of the later sessions.  After settling into a long career with Bobby as the Osborne Brothers, Sonny became known as a great innovator.  He experimented with a six-string banjo as well as a five-string resonator guitar/banjo.  He wrote the first five-string bluegrass banjo course and he and Bobby electrified their mandolin and banjo when they began playing large auditoriums on country package shows.  Sonny retired from the road in the early 2000s.  
PALMER, JOHN  (1927-1993)     
John Palmer was the long-time bass player and bass vocalist for Don Reno, Red Smiley & the Tennessee Cut-Ups during their years of recording for Cincinnati-based King Records.  He had played with Don in various bands before that.  When Reno & Smiley split up in 1964, John stayed with Red Smiley as part of the Bluegrass Cut-Ups, the band that eventually became the Shenandoah Cut-Ups after Red’s retirement in 1968.  The Shenandoah Cut-Ups had a recording career of their own and also helped back Mac Wiseman when he re-recorded a lot of his old songs for Cincinnati’s Vetco Records in 1975.

Don Parker was a mandolin player and professor at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s.  He was faculty advisor to the UC Bluegrass Committee, which brought in the Country Gentlemen, the II Generation, Charlie Moore, Jimmy Martin, and the Nu-Grass Pickers to UC in this time period.  He was also a member of Katie Laur’s first band.

PENNINGTON, RAY (1933-)         
Ray Pennington was a vocalist and led a western swing band in the Cincinnati area.  He later became a recording artist and eventually a well known producer and part owner of Step One Records in Nashville.  His early production activities were at King Records in Cincinnati where he directed a lot of the Stanley Brothers recordings in the 1960s.  He was also co-writer of two of the Stanley Brothers’ most popular King records, “Stone Walls and Steel Bars” and “Don’t Cheat In Our Home Town” (the latter was also recorded by Ricky Skaggs).

Bernie Phelan was president of OKI when it made it’s greatest strides as an organization.  An intelligent, articulate but soft-spoken man, he seemed to have a knack for getting the job done.

The Powell Brothers were a Dayton band that was active in the 1960s, playing the east-side bars, and opening some shows at Hara Arena.  There were three brothers: Ed played guitar, Jack played bass, and Odell played mandolin.  Red Spurlock played banjo with them, as did Mike Lilly.  They cut the classic single “Loneliness” on Top Tennessee with Red Spurlock, and a later single on Rem Records.

PRICE, BILL  (1934-) 
Raised on a farm in Union County, North Carolina, Bill Price fell in love with the sound of Bill Monroe.  In 1954, he got the chance to sing and play guitar with Bill.  He stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for five months, then went with Jimmy Martin to WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, where he played mandolin.  When Jimmy moved on, Bill got a job at the Jimmie Skinner Music Center in Cincinnati.  In 1955 he formed the Country Pardners with Carlos Brock, Bobby Simpson, and Benny Williams, and recorded six sides for RCA.  After Carlos Brock joined the Army, Bill went with Bill Monroe again for a few months and then returned to North Carolina.  He began playing both bluegrass and country and in the late 1960s and early 1970s he recorded for “D” Records out of Houston, Texas.  Although the records were straight country, one of them is very interesting from a bluegrass standpoint.  It was called “Dayton, Ohio” and appeared to be autobiographical because it referred to his days in Dayton and mentioned the Country Pardners.  Another one “Going Back To Charlotte” talks about living in Cincinnati and wanting to go back home.  Price recorded several further bluegrass albums for Folkways before his death.

RADER, ELMER “EL”          
In the mid 1950s, the heyday of the small independent record labels, El Rader founded Lucky Records in Cincinnati.  He recorded some of the better local country and rockabilly artists, such as Joe “Cannonball” Lewis, Bill “Zekie” Browning, Bobby Grove, and Nelson Young.  He was involved as a songwriter with Joe “Cannonball” Lewis on some of the bluegrass-flavored recordings Lewis did for MGM Records.  He is a cousin of Mark Rader of Middletown’s Traditional Grass.

RADER, CHARLES M. “MARK”  (1956-)      
Mark Rader grew up in a musical family in southwestern Ohio.  An excellent lead guitar player and singer, he worked with the Traditional Grass through their entire existence, from 1983 to 1995.  He had worked previously with the Walker Street Band in Cincinnati from 1979 to 1981.  Rader did quite a bit of songwriting for the Traditional Grass, including “The Blues Are Still the Blues” and “This Love of Ours.”  He soloed on some fine Jimmie Rodgers songs like “Jimmie’s Texas Blues” and “My Old Pal” as well as duets with Joe Mullins on the Delmore Brothers’ songs “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” and “Weary Lonesome Blues” and old-time country songs “Lover’s Quarrel” and “She Has Forgotten.”  After the Traditional Grass broke up, Mark ceased to perform professionally.

RANEY, WAYNE  (1921-1993)    
Wayne Raney was born in Wolf Bayou, Arkansas, and as a boy became interested in playing the harmonica.  In 1938, he teamed up with Lonnie Glosson, another harmonica player, and they worked together off and on for many years.  They put together a short transcribed radio show that ran on 200 radio stations around the country, including WCKY in Cincinnati, where they reportedly sold five million harmonicas in the late 1940s.  He also recorded for King Records in Cincinnati, where he had a #1 country hit with “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.”  Raney also worked with the Delmore Brothers; the moody harmonicas of Wayne and Lonnie Glosson and the great guitar riff of Zeke Turner helped make “Blues Stay Away From Me” a big record for the Delmores.  He worked also with Lefty Frizzell, and in 1956 started working as a DJ at WCKY in Cincinnati and stayed there for around five years.  It was during this time that he became involved in starting a couple of Indiana record companies, Poor Boy and American.  On Poor Boy he cut “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock and Roll),” which also came out on Starday.  Charlie Moore and Bill Napier cut a single on American.  Wayne apparently also had a record company called New American based in Oxford, Ohio, which issued several EPs using leased King masters and were probably sold as a special offer over the radio.  He finally moved back to Arkansas and founded Rimrock Records.

From Harlan County, Kentucky, John Reedy and his wife Frances appeared on radio in Harlan, Kentucky, for many years and became well-known for their bluegrass gospel recordings.  Sometime in the early 1960s, they were apparently living in the Dayton, Ohio, area as they cut three singles for Jalyn in Dayton, an EP for Ark in Cincinnati, and at least one self-produced single on their own label which gives an address of 5180 Wolf Creek Pike in Dayton.  They also cut a single on Cincinnati’s Jewel label and two EPs on Starday, on which Dayton’s Dorsey Harvey is reputed to have been the mandolin player.

RENO, DONALD WESLEY “DON”  (1927-1984)  
Born in Buffalo, South Carolina, Don Reno was playing the guitar at a professional level by the time he was eight and the banjo by the time he was 12.  He performed with the Morris Brothers, Arthur Smith, and Bill Monroe but really began  to be noticed when he and Red Smiley came to Cincinnati in 1951 as members of Tommy Magness & his Tennessee Buddies and cut four songs on King Records’ subsidiary, Federal Records.  After that band broke up, he and Red came back to King in 1952 and cut 16 sides, including Don’s bluegrass standard “I’m Using My Bible For a Road Map.”  This was the beginning of a long association with King Records.  An exceptionally versatile musician, Don recorded “Home Sweet Home” and “Green Mountain Hop” for King by dubbing three vocal parts, guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, and snare drum himself.  His tenor singing was unmistakable and his fresh and original songwriting was both excellent and extensive.  He wrote a high percentage of the songs recorded by Reno & Smiley and co-composed and recorded “Feuding Banjos” with Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, in whose Charlotte-based band he performed before the Tennessee Cut-Ups became a full-time organization in the mid 1950s.  Along with partner Red Smiley, Don Reno was elected to the IBMA Hall of Honor in 1992.  After he and Smiley’s first split in 1964, he teamed with Benny Martin briefly, Bill Harrell until 1979, and with sons Dale and Don Wayne until his death, recording for Dot, Mercury, King, King Bluegrass, CMH and several other labels.

RENO, RONNIE  (1947-)      
The eldest son of Don Reno, Ronnie Reno was born in South Carolina and was playing mandolin in the Reno & Smiley band by the time he was nine years old.  He played and sang on some of the many King records the band made in Cincinnati.  After Reno & Smiley broke up in 1964, he played with Reno & Harrell for a while and then left in 1968 to play bass for the Osborne Brothers, eventually moving into vocal trio and guitar roles with that ensemble.  He later joined Merle Haggard and the Strangers as front man and harmony vocalist, along with Bonnie Owens.  After leaving Haggard, he produced a bluegrass show for Stan Hitchcock’s cable TV network and appeared with his two younger siblings as the Reno Brothers before initiating his own group in the late ‘90s.

RISNER, SCOTT (c.1962-) 
Scott was born in a log cabin near Verona, Kentucky, and learned both mandolin and guitar.  He has played bluegrass in the Cincinnati area with the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, Prospect Hill, the La-Z Boys, and in 2006 was playing with the Catalog Cowboys, who play various types of roots music.

ROBERTS, JEFF         
The dean of five-string banjo players in the Cincinnati area, Jeff Roberts started playing with the Katie Laur Band as a young man and has played and recorded with many bands around Cincinnati including the Ohio Valley Rounders and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars.

Larry Roll was the third member of the Virginia Trio with Jim and Jesse McReynolds when they recorded for Kentucky Records.  He had a wonderful mellow voice and did some solo recordings for Kentucky as “The Circuit Rider” which were reissued under his own name on the Big 6 label.

Everett Rose owned the Blazing Stump on East Fifth Street in Dayton as well as the Opry House Bar and the Maple Gardens on West Third in the Drexel neighborhood.  All three places used bluegrass music. Mac McDivitt saw the Stanley Brothers at Maple Gardens and Bill Monroe at the Opry House.

Ann and Stew Salmons operated the Ken-Mill in Cincinnati.  The house band was Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys, who played six nights a week.  When bluegrass bands were in town to record at King Records, Stew and Ann would often book them to play at the Ken-Mill. Mac McDivitt recalls seeing the Stanley Brothers there.  After leaving the Ken-Mill, they operated the Minute Man on North Bend Road, where Earl Taylor and Jim McCall appeared.

SCRUGGS, EARL (1924-)  
Shelby, North Carolina, native Earl Scruggs perfected the three-finger style of banjo that was emerging during his childhood in the Piedmont region of the Carolinas.  After playing with the Morris Brothers and Lost John Miller & the Allied Kentuckians, Scruggs joined Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys in 1945.  That band, which also included Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise, and Howard Watts, first assembled all the ingredients of modern bluegrass music.  In 1948, he and Flatt formed their own group, the Foggy Mountain Boys, and made their first 16 recordings in Cincinnati for the Mercury label.  Included was Earl’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” later acknowledged as the definitive banjo instrumental and used in the 1967 movie, “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Born a “Sechler” in China, Grove, North Carolina, Curly Seckler changed to a more phonetic spelling as he became a prominent tenor vocalist and mandolin player in the early days of pre-bluegrass and bluegrass music.  Seckler recorded with Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Partners before his most-famous pairing, with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, with whom he appeared off and on until Lester’s death in 1979.  Thirty years earlier, he participated in classic recordings with Flatt & Scruggs in Cincinnati for the Mercury label.  Seckler also toured with Mac Wiseman and with Jim & Jesse in the early 1950s, an era in which they were visible figures in the Cincinnati/Dayton bluegrass scene.  In 2004, Curly Sckler was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Honor.
Chuck Seitz was a recording engineer who got his start at Rite Records in Cincinnati and helped produce Sonny Osborne’s bluegrass records on Rite’s Gateway and Kentucky labels in the early 1950s.  He wrote a number of songs for Joe “Cannonball” Lewis, including “Train Whistle Nightmare.”  Chuck managed Joe at one time and also worked in Cincinnati for Billboard Magazine.  Later, he went to work for King Records in Cincinnati, and was appointed chief engineer in 1961.  Still later, he moved to Nashville and worked as an engineer in RCA Victor’s legendary Studio B, providing audio expertise for such artists as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Chet Atkins, before returning to Cincinnati and working at QCA Records.

North Carolina-born Jim Shumate was a fiddler with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined the group in 1945.  He was included in the first iteration of Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, with whom he recorded four Mercury sides in Cincinnati in the Fall of 1948.

SIMS, BENNY (1924-1995)            
Benny Sims was an influential early fiddler in bluegrass, best known for his classic recordings with Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys.  Sims was included in the last eight sides they recorded in Cincinnati for Mercury, in December of 1949.

SKINNER, JAMES “JIMMIE”  (1909-1979)   Jimmie Skinner was a Cincinnati icon.  Born in Blue Lick, Kentucky, near Berea, Jimmie moved to Hamilton, Ohio, in 1926.  The Hamilton-Cincinnati area was to be his home for most of the rest of his life.  In the 1950s, no one was more popular in the Cincinnati area.  In fact, in 1951 he was voted the fifth most popular artist nationally in Country Song Roundup, behind only Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Eddy Arnold.  He was part owner of the record store in downtown Cincinnati that bore his name, and where he broadcast live daily for WNOP in Newport, Kentucky.  He recorded on three major record labels; Capitol, Decca, and Mercury.  He recorded three Billboard top-10 records: “I Found My Girl In the U.S.A.,” “What Makes a Man Wander,” and “Dark Hollow,” in addition to seven other top-30 records.  Other labels for which he recorded included Red Barn, Radio Artist, Starday, Rich’R’Tone, Vetco, Country Corner, Stop, Sims, Brite-Star, Prize, Jewel, and Blue Grass Special.  Some of the artists he helped in the music business included Rusty York, Connie Hall, the Davis Sisters, Joe “Cannonball” Lewis, and Roy Moss.  Mainly a country blues singer, in later years he recorded quite a bit of bluegrass and wrote the enduring bluegrass standard “Doin’ My Time,” as well as “Don’t Give Your Heart To a Rambler,” “You Don’t Know My Mind,” “A Born Ramblin’ Man” and many others.

SMILEY, ARTHUR LEE JR. “RED”  (1925-1972) 
One-half of the great Reno and Smiley duo, Red Smiley sang lead and played guitar.  He was born in North Carolina and had worked with the Morris Brothers before meeting Don Reno in Tommy Magness’ band, the Tennessee Buddies.  They recorded with Magness in Cincinnati on Federal Records, a subsidiary of King in 1951.  After leaving Magness, Don and Red worked briefly with Toby Stroud and then left to form their own band, the Tennessee Cut-Ups, and secured a recording contract with King Records.  They worked the road and TV and recorded together until 1964, when Red’s health worsened and he decided to get off the road.  He formed a new group, the Bluegrass Cut-Ups and continued on Roanoke TV.  They cut one album on Rimrock and three on Rural Rhythm before Red’s retirement in 1968.  In 1970, Red got back together with Don and Bill Harrell and worked dates with them until his death.  Along with Don Reno, Red was elected to the IBMA Hall of Honor in 1992.

SMITH, BOBBY  (1937-1992)       
Born in Tennessee, Bobby Smith came to Dayton, Ohio, in the late 1950s with his brother Dallas.  They played the Dayton bars for about a year before Bobby got a job playing guitar and singing lead with Bill Monroe.  After a year with Monroe, Bobby and Dallas formed The Boys from Shiloh.

SMITH, DALLAS  (1934-2002)     
A Tennessee native, guitar-playing Dallas Smith and his brother Bobby played in the Dayton, Ohio, area as the Smith Brothers for about a year in the late 1950s.  After his brother quit to work with Bill Monroe, Dallas played country music on the east coast, before rejoining his brother a year later to form The Boys from Shiloh.

SPARKS, LARRY  (1947-) 
Larry Sparks was born in Lebanon, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Franklin, listening to country, bluegrass, and blues music on the radio.  All those styles were incorporated into his unique approach to singing and guitar playing.  Larry was raised in a musical family, and his earliest appearances were with his sister Bernice.  At the age of 17, he got the opportunity to play guitar for the Stanley Brothers, and at 19 he became Ralph Stanley’s lead singer after Carter Stanley’s death.  Three years later, he formed his own band, the Lonesome Ramblers.  He had recorded a single earlier on Jack Lynch’s Jalyn label as Larry Sparks and the Sandy Mountain Boys.  After forming the Lonesome Ramblers, he cut his debut album on the Pine Tree label in Hamilton, Ohio, entitled “Ramblin’ Guitar” with half vocals and half instrumentals.  This would set the tone for his career as he was to be as well-known for his bluesy guitar playing as he would for his soulful singing.  Sparks cut two more LPs for Pine Tree and four for Cincinnati-based King Bluegrass.  After that, he recorded for Old Homestead, Starday, County, Lesco (his own label), June Apple, Acoustic Revival, and a long string of LPs and CDs on Rebel.  Larry was selected as the IBMA Vocalist of the Year in both 2004 and 2005, and his CD “40,” celebrating his 40 years in bluegrass, was selected as both the Album of the Year and the Recorded Event of the Year by the IBMA in 2005.  Since the 1970s, Larry has lived in Southeastern Indiana, near the Cincinnati/Dayton region where he regularly appears.

Larry Sparks’ son “D” is a bass player and baritone singer who has been in his dad’s band off and on for several years.  He was also a member of the Ohio band Blue and Lonesome.

SPARKS, SCOTTIE              
Not related to Larry, Scottie Sparks was born in Dayton, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Miamisburg.  A guitar-playing lead singer, he worked around Dayton for a while before relocating to Kentucky.  He has performed with the Wilson Brothers, Dave Evans, Redwing, Unlimited Tradition, Lost & Found, and had his own band at one time.  An admirer of the Stanley Brothers, he participated in two Doobie Shea album tributes to the Stanley Brothers and had his own solo album on Doobie Shea in 1999.

Fred Spencer was Roy Lee Centers’ brother-in-law and worked a lot around Dayton with Roy Lee in the Easterners and as the Lee Brothers.  Later on he formed his own bluegrass gospel group, the Spencer Family, which included his wife, son, daughter, and nephew Lennie Centers (Roy Lee’s son).  They lived and performed in the West Portsmouth, Ohio, area, where Fred passed away in the year 2000.

A Cincinnati-area banjo player in the 1950s,  Wilson Spivey played on WZIP in Covington, Kentucky, and WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, as well as at the Jimmie Skinner Music Center in Cincinnati.  Rusty York got his start as a banjo player by taking some lessons from Wilson Spivey.  

SPURLOCK, WILLARD “RED”  (1930-)                    
Red Spurlock played banjo around Dayton with all of the bluegrass greats that got their start there.  Instead of spending his life on the road, he elected to stay around the Dayton area and operate his own auto glass business, playing bluegrass in his spare time.  Born in Kentucky and residing in Indiana during his teen years, Spurlock settled in Dayton after he got out of the Army.  He played the West Third Street bars with Red Allen, Frank Wakefield, Johnnie McKee, and the Brock Brothers.  He and Red Allen and Frank Wakefield recorded a single on BMC Records as the Redheads.  Later, he teamed with the Powell Brothers to cut a classic single on Top Tennessee Records, “Loneliness,” backed with a Red Spurlock original instrumental, “Spur-Lock Fones.”  In the 2000s, he and his wife Joyce were performing in a band known as Red Spurlock and the Rainbow Ramblers and issuing some self-produced CDs.

STAGGS, HAROLD             
Always introduced as “Fiddlin’” Harold Staggs, he was a member of or recorded with numerous bands around the Dayton area including the Valley Ramblers and the Dixie Ryders.

STAMPER, ARTHUR “ART”  (1933-2005)   
Art Stamper was born in Knott County, Kentucky, and started playing fiddle when he was nine years old.  In 1950, he went to Cincinnati and played the bars there off and on for two years.  After that, he worked for the Stanley Brothers and fiddled on some of their Rich-R-Tone recordings.  In 1956, he moved to Dayton, Ohio and began playing with the Osborne Brothers and Red Allen.  Stamper played fiddle on their first MGM recording session, that included some twin fiddling with Tommy Jackson.  After retirement from a hairdressing career in Louisville, Stamper played with Larry Sparks and recorded several popular fiddle albums featuring bluegrass and old-time styles.

STANLEY, CARTER  (1925-1966)                  
Thought by many to be the greatest lead singer ever in bluegrass music, Carter Stanley had a mournful, plaintive sound that could transport a listener back in time and across the miles to theVirginia mountains where he grew up.  His ability to write songs like “The White Dove,” “The Fields Have Turned Brown”, and “The Lonesome River” only enhanced his effectiveness as a singer.  He died young at age 41, but his influence still continues in 2006 with singers that emulate his style and bands that record the songs he wrote.  Between the years of 1958 and 1965, the Stanley Brothers made recordings in Cincinnati for the King label, and performed often in southwestern Ohio.

STANLEY, RALPH  (1927-)           
After his brother Carter’s death in 1966, Ralph decided to continue on his own, but moved back to a more primitive sound.  In 1967 and 1968, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys recorded for King Records in Cincinnati.  He continued to appear around the Dayton area just as much as the Stanley Brothers did, and recorded two LPs for Jack Lynch’s Jalyn Records.  With a succession of lead singers, he still did the old Stanley Brothers songs, but he started doing more lead singing, specialty banjo numbers, novelty songs, and the acapella gospel quartet singing which he originated in bluegrass.  No one has ever been able to duplicate Ralph’s raw, eerie mountain tenor voice.  Ralph has achieved a lot of well deserved honors: an honorary college doctorate, membership in the Grand Ole Opry, his own museum, and, with the success of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” worldwide recognition outside of bluegrass music. 

Natchee was a fiddler born in Peebles, Ohio, who became well known in southern Ohio in the 1930s.  He and Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas traveled with promoter Larry Sunbrock, who staged fiddle contests pitting Natchee against other famous fiddlers of the day, including Clayton McMichen, Curly Fox, and Clark Kessinger.  Natchee was a showman and trick fiddler and would win a lot of the contests.  The general consensus is that the contests were probably fixed (most of the fiddlers were paid by Sunbrock).  There is some doubt that Natchee was even an Indian; he was rumored to be either Italian or Greek.  To add to the confusion, he worked on radio with “Indian Bill and Little Montana” (Bill and Evalina Stallard).  He apparently also worked around Dayton and Cincinnati with Emory Martin and with Jimmie Skinner.  Aside from all rumors, people who saw Natchee remembered him for his showmanship.

STRONG, GARY          
Gary Strong has been fronting bluegrass bands and doing bluegrass radio DJ shows around Cincinnati, northern Kentucky, and central Kentucky since the 1970s.  He plays guitar and sings lead.  Early on, he called his band the Licking Valley Boys and later changed it to Hard Times.  He recorded LPs on Programme Audio, Old Homestead, and Central.  He had DJ shows on WAIF in Cincinnati, WCYO in Richmond, Kentucky, and WOBO in Batavia, Ohio.

Tim is Gary Strong’s brother and an accomplished lead guitar player.  He also plays rhythm guitar and mandolin and sings tenor.  He has worked with Union Springs and in 2006 works around the Cincinnati area with the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars and the La-Z Boys and with his brother’s band, Gary Strong and Hard Times.

SUTTON, TOMMY (1910-1992)   
Tommy Sutton was originally a western-style singer who worked in various bands at WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia.  He came to Dayton as a country DJ and worked at several area radio stations in the 1950s, including WONE, WPFB, and WING, calling himself “The Old Cornbread Eater and Buttermilk Drinker-Upper.”  He used Flatt and Scruggs’ “Dear Old Dixie” as one of his theme songs.  Because he came from West Virginia,  he was familiar with Mac Wiseman and pretty much made Mac a star in Dayton when no one else was playing his records.  Tommy was personally responsible for securing the MGM Records contract for the Osborne Brothers and Red Allen, and helped the Trace Family Trio to get a contract with King Records.

Gene Sweet played resonator guitar and worked at one time with Dave Woolum.  In 1971 he had the house band The Blue Grass Unlimited at the Mermaid Lounge at 3100 East Third Street in Dayton with Mike Lilly, Art Wydner, and Oliver Witson.  Gene also toured with Red Allen and the Allen Brothers and, in 1976, cut an album on Jewel entitled “Out On the Ocean.”

TAYLOR, EARL  (1929-1984)      
A mandolin player and tenor singer in the Bill Monroe style, Earl Taylor, a  native of southwestern Virginia, came to Cincinnati from Baltimore and became a fixture on the Cincinnati bar scene.  He played stints at the Ken-Mill, Aunt Maudie’s, and the Minute Man Inn.  Performing on harmonica as well as mandolin, he did a lot of sessions at King Studios with out-of-town bluegrass bands such as the Stanley Brothers.  Earl Taylor and his band, the Stoney Mountain Boys, were the first bluegrass group to play at New York City’s famous Carnegie Hall (in 1959).

Tom Teepen, now a national editorial columnist for Cox Newspapers, was formerly editorial page editor for the Dayton Daily News and also wrote a folk music column for the newspaper.  He became interested in bluegrass and that interest began creeping into his folk music column with reviews of bluegrass shows and  records.  He did a realistic feature on a concert tour with Larry Sparks and did a profile of Red Allen for Muleskinner News.  Two of his articles were anthologized in “The Bluegrass Reader.”  Teepen’s writings helped to legitimize bluegrass music for mainstream readers.
Jeff Terflinger played mandolin and recorded with the Katie Laur Band in Cincinnati when it was hitting the bluegrass festival circuit.  He also worked with Wayne Lewis and with rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers.  He, Katie Laur, and Terry Boswell played some gigs around Cincinnati as an acoustic trio, and he worked with Cincinnati’s Akoustikats for several years.  Terflinger appeared on the two LPs Mac Wiseman cut on Vetco and also recorded with Jimmie Skinner.  Along the way he also began playing violin and in 2006 was in California playing jazz and swing with a trio called The Swing Monkeys.

THOMAS, BILLY         
Born in Kentucky, Billy Thomas came to Cincinnati after he got out of the Army and played the fiddle at various bars around Cincinnati and northern Kentucky in the early 1950s.  He worked with a group called the Echo Valley Boys, who had a TV show on WKRC-TV in 1951.  The band also made some recordings for Carl Burkhardt’s Kentucky Records and Billy worked in the staff band at Kentucky, backing other artists and recording fiddle tunes with Buffalo Johnson’s country band backing him.  Thomas worked and recorded with Jimmie Skinner and recorded with Joe “Cannonball” Lewis.  After being out of professional music for 20 years, he came back and played fiddle with the Boys From Indiana in the late 1970s and part of the 1980s.

In 1970, Suzanne Thomas was one of the founding members of the fine Dayton, Ohio, band The Hotmud Family.  At the time she was one of the few women musicians on the bluegrass festival circuit.  Born in Dayton from Kentucky antecedents, she can sing, play guitar, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, mandolin, and piano.  After the breakup of the Hotmud Family, Suzanne played lead guitar in the country-rock band Sagebrush and worked in a traditional duo with Carol Elizabeth Jones as the Kentucky Warblers before becoming a member of the Dry Branch Fire Squad in 1990.  After several CDs with the Dry Branch Fire Squad, she left in 1999 and is now based in Hillsboro, Ohio.  Thomas is also an accomplished songwriter and recorded an excellent solo effort on Rounder in 1998: “Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts.”

THOMASON, RONALD S. “RON”  (1944-)   
Ron was born in Russell County, Virginia.  After graduating from Ohio University in Athens in 1967, Ron settled in the Springfield, Ohio, area and began teaching school as well as playing in a band that included Frank Wakefield and Howard Aldridge.  He also worked with Jack Casey, Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, and Lee Allen’s Dew Mountain Boys.  In 1976, he started the Dry Branch Fire Squad, a force around the Dayton area before becoming prominent on the national circuit and as Rounder recording artists.  Thomason recently relocated to Colorado.  In addition to being an excellent mandolin player and having an eerie singing voice that can evoke the lonesome mountain sound like Ralph Stanley, Ron is also a bluegrass humorist who uses satire to comment on bluegrass, the world situation, and life itself.  His humor is reflected in a little booklet he put out in 1979 “Lonesome Is a Car On Blocks.”  He is also the promoter of two bluegrass festivals, Grey Fox and High Mountain Hay Fever.

THORPE, OSBURN “OSSIE”  (c.1934- ?  ) 
A native of Kentucky, Osburn Thorpe was a Deputy Sheriff in Montgomery County, Ohio, in the late 1960s when he began writing songs.  He became friendly with Jack Lynch of Jalyn Records in Dayton and William Jones of Pine Tree Records in Hamilton.  As a result, he was able to place songs with Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks and get them recorded on those labels.  He wrote five of the songs on Ralph’s second Jalyn album, including “Carter’s Songs,” a tribute to Carter Stanley.  He placed at least eight songs with Larry, including “Too Late To Walk the Floor” and “Green Pastures In the Sky,” and produced Larry’s first album on Pine Tree.  An early death cut short a promising songwriting career.

TILFORD, WAYNE                
Jo DePew and Wayne Tilford worked together at WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, and married while at the station.  Jo could do a great version of the old Molly O’Day song “Why Do You Weep Dear Willow,” and played bass on Jimmie Skinner’s Red Barn recording of his classic “Doin’ My Time.”  Wayne was a  fiddle player.  They recorded a single on Cincinnati’s Ark Records in 1963, along with their daughter Angie.

TRAVIS, MERLE (1917-1983)      
One of the original members of the Browns Ferry Four at WLW, Merle Travis popularized “Travis Style Picking.”  Songs that he wrote or arranged that have become part of the bluegrass scene include “Nine Pound Hammer”, “Dark As A Dungeon”, and “John Henry.”

TRIBE, IVAN       
Ivan Tribe is a widely published author who has documented the history of many southern Ohio musicians in articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, JEMF Quarterly, Old Time Music, The Devil’s Box, Pickin’, and Goldenseal, as well as in his contributions to “Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and its Performers.”  Tribe was born in Albany, Ohio, and is a professor of history at the University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, Ohio.  He has also written a book-length history of country music in West Virginia, a book on the history of the Stoneman family and, most recently, “Country – A Regional Exploration.”

The Turner Brothers, a mandolin and guitar duet who were on WLW for a long time, recorded for Radio Artist and Mercury Records.  They cut an early version of “Kentucky,” as well as numerous gospel songs.  Red eventually became a minister and started his own Turner record label which issued gospel records, mostly by him.

Curley Tuttle was a mandolin player in the Hamilton- Cincinnati area who was active from the 1950s at least through the 1980s.  He played with Dave Woolum, worked some with Jimmie Skinner, recorded on Hamilton’s Melody Records with a group called the Good News Trio, and played and recorded with Joe “Cannonball” Lewis.

UKELSON, LOU           
Latter-day owner of the Jimmie Skinner Music Center, Lou Ukelson also founded and operated Aunt Maudie’s Country Garden for a while in Cincinnati.  He made his mark, however, as a record label owner and producer by founding Vetco Records in Cincinnati and issuing a lot of bluegrass in the 1970s and 1980s, using the best local talent as well as a few nationally known artists.  He also owned the Outhouse label as well as the Octev label (Vetco spelled backwards), and issued some records for rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers on the Feathers label.

Frank Wakefield is truly one of a kind.  His “backwards talking” and “Jesus loves His mandolin player” numbers would be enough to ensure that, but he is also one of the greatest mandolin players to ever play bluegrass.  He was born in Tennessee, moving to Dayton, Ohio in 1950.  He and his brother Ralph appeared on WHIO in Dayton as the Wakefield Brothers.  In 1952, he met Red Allen and the two of them worked together on and off for 20 years.  In 1953, Frank wrote “New Camptown Races” and recorded it on Detroit’s Wayside label.  In 1957 he, Red Allen,  and Red Spurlock recorded as The Redheads for Les Bodine’s BMC label in Dayton.  Frank went east and worked with the Greenbriar Boys, the Country Classics, and the Good Ol’ Boys, in between stints with Red Allen.  He performed with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia and, in 1975, formed the Frank Wakefield Band which has continued on into the 2000s.

WARD, SMOKEY         
A certified character, Smokey Ward headed up the Barrelhead Gang at WPFB in Middletown, and brought in several entertainers who were later to become famous as bluegrass musicians.  Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Jimmy Martin, the Osborne Brothers, and J.D. Crowe were all with Smokey Ward at WPFB at various times.  He did a live show around noon or 12:30 on weekdays and the Saturday night “WPFB Jamboree.”  He had a lot of old folksy type sayings which he eventually combined into a song called “Dog Bite Yo’ Hide” which he recorded with the Barrelhead Gang (Jimmy Martin later recorded it on Decca).  After the live-show era was gone, Smokey worked as a DJ at WPFB for a while.  Years later, he appeared as a guest on the TV show “To Tell the Truth” and stumped the panel with his occupation as a blacksmith.

Don Warmouth played guitar and sang lead for the Valley Ramblers.  He had one of those unique voices that really lend themselves to bluegrass.

A husband and wife team very active in the Dayton, Ohio, area in the 1950s and into the 1960s,  Glenn Watson played mandolin, Vivian played guitar and they did a lot of good mountain-style harmony duets.  They opened for national acts and appeared on Les Bodine’s barn-dance-styled shows in Dayton.  They appeared on the “WCKY Ohio Jamboree,” which was broadcast live from Madison Lake Park in London, Ohio, in the early 1960s.  They recorded for Les Bodine’s BMC label in 1959 and also recorded for the Cincinnati cover label Big 4.  They had a very good cover version of the Louvin Brothers’ “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” on Big 4.  Not exactly bluegrass because they used electric lead guitar on some their recordings, they were, like the Louvins, in a gray area between country and bluegrass.

WATTS, HOWARD (“CEDRIC RAINWATER”)  (1913-1970)             
Howard Watts played bass in the “classic” edition of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, in which the modern sound of bluegrass jelled between 1945 and 1948.  Watts struck off with bandmates Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to form the Foggy Mountain Boys.  He performed on all 16 of the sides Flatt & Scruggs recorded in Cincinnati for Mercury, in 1948 and 1949.  He also played on the first solo recordings of Hylo Brown (1954) and Jimmy Martin (1956), both musicians associated with the Cincinnati/Dayton region.     

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Jon Weisberger has become one of the top bluegrass/country music journalists in the country, as well as being an excellent acoustic and electric bass player.  Jon received classical training as a child but opted for country and bluegrass when he became an adult.  He has played bass with Darrel Adkins and Silverwind in Columbus and with Vince Combs in Dayton.  He and Dwight McCall organized Union Springs in 1992 and recorded two CDs on Vetco and one on Copper Creek.  In 1999 he worked with the Wildwood Valley Boys.  He has also played around the Cincinnati area with Prospect Hill, the La-Z Boys, the Ohio Valley Rounders, the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, and the Appalachian Grass.  He also worked as a bluegrass DJ at WOBO in Batavia and WYSO in Yellow Springs.  In 2003, he moved from northern Kentucky to Nashville to join Chris Jones’ band.  Weisberger has written articles for No Depression, Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Now, Nashville Scene, and other magazines, as well as liner notes. Articles in No Depression have included the Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Paul Williams, Larry Sparks, and Rhonda Vincent.  Jon has won two awards from IBMA: Media Print Person of the Year for 2000 and Best Liner Notes in 2001.  He has also been honored by the International Country Music Conference with the Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence In Country Music Journalism for 2005.  He is on the Board of Directors of Bgrass, Inc., and has written songs recorded by major bluegrass artists.

Shorty Whitaker was a long-time member of Joe “Cannonball” Lewis’s Blue Mountain Boys.  He played some really strong mandolin on Joe’s bluegrass flavored MGM recordings, which were cut in Cincinnati.

WHITAKER, LILLIMAE (1940- )             
Lilimae Whitaker began life as Lillimae Haney, and performed with her sister as the Haney Sisters.  After they grew up and her sister married and left the duo, Lillimae and her father continued with a band that included Charlie Whitaker, who eventually became Lillimae’s husband.  In the mid 1960s they adopted the band name “Lillimae and the Dixie Gospelaires” and Lillimae became one of the first female band leaders in bluegrass.  They lived and performed in the western Ohio area, recording on Arco, Rural Rhythm, Down Home,  and Gloryland.  Some notables who have gone through Lillimae’s band include Wayne Lewis, Tommy Boyd, and Joe Isaacs.

Bennie Williams (not the same as the Nashville-based Benny Williams) was a member of the Valley Ramblers at one time and played fiddle on their first Jalyn LP.

WISEMAN, MAC (1925-)     
A native of Crimora, Virginia, Mac Wiseman is an influential bluegrass singer, guitar player, and a member of the IBMA Hall of Honor.  After playing with Mollie O’Day, Wiseman joined Flatt & Scruggs and was included on their first recording session, held in Cincinnati in the Fall of 1948.  From there, he joined Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys before initiating a solo career.  In his early recording days on Dot, Mac Wiseman was tremendously popular around the Dayton and Hamilton areas.  His records crowded the country juke boxes.  Much later, he revisited his early hits by re-recording some of them on two LPs on Cincinnati’s Vetco label with backing by members of the the Shenandoah Cut-Ups and the Katie Laur Band.  He also headlined the “Buckeye Barn Dance” presented by WYSO, Lyceum Productions, and the Little Miami Theater Works at Sinclair College’s Blair Hall in Dayton on January 17, 1987.

WOOLUM, DAVE  (d. 1986)          
Dave Woolum was a pioneer bluegrass band leader, lead singer, and guitar player.  He and his band, the Laurel County Partners, opened for a lot of country acts around the Cincinnati area in the 1950s, when there were very few professional bluegrass bands around.  He recorded for Ark, Excellent, Sage & Sand, Melody, Pine Tree, Rem, and Starday.

WOOTEN, ART (1906-1986)         
Art Wooten was a fiddler in early incarnations of all three of the first bluegrass bands: Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the Stanley Brothers’ Clinch Mountain Boys, and Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys.  With the latter, he recorded four songs in Cincinnati for Mercury in the Spring of 1949.

WYDNER, IRA “ART”  (c.1917-1993) 
Born in Harlan, Kentucky, Art Wydner was an often-seen bass player around the Dayton-Cincinnati area in the 1970s.  He played with Larry Sparks in one of Larry’s early bands and later played with Dave Evans, in addition to filling in with many other bluegrass bands around the area.      

Born in Harlan County, Kentucky, Rusty York came to Cincinnati when he was 17 years old.  He could play both guitar and banjo, and began working the bars in Cincinnati with Willard Hale, with whom he later made some recordings on Starday.  He acquired his nickname because people in the clubs assumed that the name inscribed on his second-hand guitar was his.  Rusty became Jimmie Skinner’s right hand man, working in his record store as well as playing banjo, resonator guitar,  and electric lead guitar with Jimmie as the occasion demanded.  He cut some rockabilly sides for Gateway and King; “Sugaree” on Chess became a national hit.  An original banjo instrumental on Mercury was called “Dixie Strut.”  He also recorded as Rusty York and the Kentucky Mountain Boys with Curly Tuttle on mandolin, Billy Thomas on fiddle, Bill Lanham on guitar, Herman Kress on bass, and himself on banjo.  He fronted Bobby Bare’s band for a while and worked in Las Vegas, but eventually decided his future lay in his Jewel Recording Studio, which he began in his garage in 1961 and later moved to 1594 Kinney Avenue in the Cincinnati suburb of Mt. Healthy.  The studio has been the site for many excellent bluegrass, country, and gospel recordings for a variety of labels, and is still in operation.

YOUNG, NELSON  (1927-)            
Born near Richmond, Kentucky, Nelson Young came north to Cincinnati and worked the bars, including the Old Chatter Box in Cincinnati and the Blacksmith Shop in McGonigle.  He was a member of the Sandy Valley Boys and played most of the bluegrass instruments but usually the fiddle or bass.  The Sandy Valley Boys had TV shows on WCPO-TV and WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, WNOP radio in Newport, Kentucky, and WPFB radio in Middletown, Ohio, in the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1963 he took the Sandy Valley Boys name and moved to Florida, eventually ending up at Walt Disney World as the Country Bears.  Nelson had a hit on the small Cincinnati label, Lucky, in 1958 with “Rock Old Sputnick.”  He also recorded on area labels Ruby, Enola, Big 6, Madison, and Ark, and on the national label Starday.  As the Sandy Valley Boys, two albums were cut for Briar, one for Vetco, and one for Lamon.


Tom Kopp
Miami University
President, Bgrass Board of Trustees

Bgrass, Inc.
P.O. Box 19253
Cincinnati, Ohio 45219-0253

Tax exempt 501(c) 3 organization

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