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An excellent traditional band, although rather short-lived, the un-aptly named  Nu-Grass Pickers featured Sid Campbell, who played guitar and sang lead.  Don Edwards played bass and sang tenor, Paul (Moon) Mullins played fiddle, and Noah Crase played banjo.  They cut one album in 1973 for the Pine Tree label of Hamilton.

Originally a rock venue near the Dayton Mall, Obadiah’s presented bluegrass shows for a very short time.  It had two floors and a relatively large seating capacity.  It opened in the early 1980s, a time when Dayton was starved for live bluegrass.  They brought in J.D. Crowe, who hadn’t appeared in the area in years. Keith Whitley was singing lead when he was at his peak as a bluegrass singer.  It was so crowded that people were virtually hanging from the chandeliers. It was standing room only even though the place had a lot of seats.  This was the most enthusiastic crowd Mac McDivitt ever saw at a bluegrass show in Dayton.  The only thing that would come close is when Earl Scruggs appeared at Memorial Hall the first time.

The Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Bluegrass Association was established in October of 1980 with the purpose of promoting, encouraging, and preserving bluegrass music.  To those ends the organization has held monthly meetings, jam sessions, and issued a newsletter.  It has organized and held bluegrass festivals at Round Eyes Park near Laura, Ohio and at the Polish Club park at 3690 Needmore Road in Dayton, to raise funds as well as give local bands a chance to play and earn some money.

The Chatter Box was a hillbilly bar at Third and Central in Cincinnati in the mid 1940s.  Nelson Young was in the house band there.  Guests that sat in included Clayton McMichen, Cowboy Copas, and “Fiddlin’” Red Herron.

Old Homestead is located in Michigan but has recorded quite a few bands from the Cincinnati/Dayton area, including Larry Sparks, Mike Lilly and Wendy Miller, and Lee Allen.

Bobby and Sonny Osborne were born in Hyden, Kentucky, but grew up on a farm on Olt Road in Jefferson Township just west of Dayton, Ohio.  Along with their sister Louise, they appeared in various configurations on WPFB in Middletown, Ohio.  In the mid 1950s, they played most of the bars in Dayton that used bluegrass music, eventually landing a spot on the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia.  They commuted to Wheeling on Saturday nights and during the week they could be spotted at the taxi stand on Second Street at the side door of Rike’s Department Store in their cabs, waiting to pick up a fare to help make ends meet.  Joining with another Kentuckian-turned-Daytonian, Red Allen, they secured a recording contract with MGM Records with the help of Dayton DJ Tommy Sutton.  While working with Red they developed the high lead style of bluegrass trio harmony which freed the brothers from being dependent on an unrelated lead singer and which revolutionized bluegrass harmony.  This gave them relatively the same sound as they moved through a succession of third members of the trio.  They moved from MGM to Decca Records and in 1964 they became members of the Grand Ole Opry.  They worked on perfecting their harmony and became masters of the “elegant ending.” Their quality performances, their professionalism, and their good business sense helped move bluegrass music from the “skull orchards” to the concert halls.  They were the Country Music Association Vocal Group of the Year in 1971, they appeared at the White House when Richard Nixon was President, their recording of “Rocky Top” was chosen as a state song of Tennessee and their recording of “Kentucky” is a state song of Kentucky.  They are members of the IBMA Hall of Honor and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. 

OTTO’S PARADISE INN                 
In the mid-1970s, Jack Lynch and a variety of pick-up bluegrass bands held forth at Otto’s, a country music bar located at 1430 Wayne Avenue in Dayton, Ohio, and owned by Otto Zavakos.

Our Common Heritage was founded in 1972 to preserve the dignity and promote the equitable treatment of the Appalachian people of Dayton, Ohio, and to give them a greater voice in the operation of the city.  A tireless promoter of the organization has been Lela Estes.  The group has funded an annual scholarship in her name to benefit a Dayton student with an Appalachian background attending Sinclair Community College.  Our Common Heritage also sponsors the annual Mountain Days celebration.

At 216 East Third Street, in downtown Dayton, Ohio, the Park Grill featured country and bluegrass music in the 1950s and beyond.  Smokey Ward was appearing there in June of 1955.

The Pine Tree label was started in 1964 in Indianapolis by the Bluegrass Blackjacks as a vehicle to release records by their group.  After three singles, the label was sold to Melody Records in Hamilton, Ohio, which eventually released approximately 15 more singles and  in excess of  50 LPs by a variety of bluegrass artists and groups. Probably the most significant release was “Ramblin’ Guitar,” which was Larry Sparks’ first LP and served to kick off his career as a solo artist after he left Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys.

Queen City Records or QCA as it came to be called was founded in the early 1950s by Edward R. Bosken as Queen City Album Company to print album jackets for LPs.  It eventually expanded into manufacturing and issuing singles and LPs on the QCA label and doing custom record manufacturing.  Rusty York used QCA for pressing a lot of the singles and LPs he issued on his Jewel label.  J.D. Jarvis, the Easter Brothers, the Sullivan Family, and Jimmie Skinner all had LPs issued by QCA.  One of the stranger LPs issued by QCA was a collaboration between banjo player/rockabilly Rusty York and blues/rock guitarist Lonnie Mack doing “Dueling Banjos” and other songs at the time of the “Deliverance” craze.

The Rabbit Hash Ramblers were a Cincinnati-area bluegrass band in the early 1970s.  One of the members was guitar player Harry “Sparky” Sparks, who later was one of the original owners of the Famous Old Time Music Company at 6107 Montgomery Road in Cincinnati.

The Redheads were a recording band consisting of Red Allen, Red Spurlock, and Frank Wakefield. They cut a good version of “Love and Wealth” and “You’ll Always Be Untrue” on Dayton’s BMC Records, issued in 1959.

REM RECORDS           
Rem was a Lexington, Kentucky label owned by Bob Mooney.  He recorded a lot of bluegrass bands from Southwestern Ohio, including Harley Gabbard, Dave Woolum, Paul Mullins and Benny Birchfield, Jim McCall and Benny Birchfield, Les Hall, and the Powell Brothers.

When John Lair left WLS in Chicago to start the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, he had the performers and the sponsor and a contract with WLW in Cincinnati to broadcast the show, but no barn.  Before land was acquired for a performance barn and other buildings to be constructed at Renfro Valley, Kentucky, the show was broadcast from Music Hall in Cincinnati from October 1937 until late 1938.  It was then moved to Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio, where it remained until November 4, 1939, when it finally was broadcast from the barn at Renfro Valley.  Early artists in Cincinnati and Dayton included Red Foley, the Duke of Paducah (Whitey Ford), Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls, fiddler and comedian Slim Miller, Millie and Dolly Good, the Callahan Brothers, and others.  Years later, when Paul Braden founded WPFB in Middletown, Ohio, he hired Renfro Valley artist Smokey Ward, who raided the talent at Renfro Valley, bringing along with him Little Eller, Shorty Hobbs, Old Joe Clark, and Fairley Holden.

RHYTHM RATS                 
The Rhythm Rats were organized in 1988 after meeting at a festival in Warren County, Ohio (probably the Old Tyme Music Festival which is held annually at Caesar’s Creek Pioneer Village near Waynesville).  Members were  Kenny Jackson on fiddle, Paula Bradley on guitar, and Whitt Mead on banjo.  They were  into old-time music and in 1992 recorded a cassette for Larry MacBride’s Indiana label Marimac.  Titled “Pretty Crowin’ Chicken” it had some really eerie feeling fiddle tunes such as “Indian War Whoop” and “Lost Indian.”  They issued a second album, “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home.”  Eventually they all moved on to other bands, although they apparently still get together occasionally and appear as the Rhythm Rats.         

RITE RECORDS           
The parent organization for Gateway, Big 4, Big 6, Kentucky, and other record labels was Rite Records in Cincinnati. Rite provided recording studios and a pressing plant to press records for those labels, as well as providing custom recording and pressing services for a host of independent local and national labels, from one-record vanity labels to national labels such as Starday and 4-Star.

Near Laura, Ohio, Round Eyes Park was the site of the OKI bluegrass festivals, which featured local as well as some national bluegrass bands.

Located at 3559 Valley Pike in Dayton, Ohio, Ruby’s White Sands was a roadhouse also known as the White Sands and as the Club Laredo.   Over the years it used a lot of different styles of music, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was the Friday and Saturday night musical home of the Osborne Brothers.

Originally known as Sam’s Lunch Room and located at 9 West Fifth Street in Dayton, the name was changed to Sam’s Bar and Grill and eventually was known by the patrons simply as “Sam’s.”  It became a haven for bluegrass music in the early 1970s, featuring such acts as the Hotmud Family, the Dry Branch Fire Squad, the Muddy River Band, Lee Allen, Red Allen and the Allen Brothers, the Falls City Ramblers, the Dorsey Harvey Band, the Hagan Brothers and others.  It was owned by Mike Zunis, who had a history in the bar and restaurant business going back to the heyday of downtown Dayton night clubs in the 1950s.  It eventually moved to 35 West Fifth Street.  Mick Montgomery operated “Open Stage Night” at Sam’s on Tuesdays, which served as a springboard for opening his own bar, the Canal Street Tavern, after Sam’s closed.

Sinclair College has hosted the Reach Across Dayton Conferences (bridging Appalachian and African-American cultures), Bluegrass Music Workshop, and early Cityfolk events that presented traditional music.

The place to buy bluegrass records in Cincinnati and Southwestern Ohio for many years was Jimmie Skinner’s Music Center.  They put together special offers of bluegrass recordings which were sold in the store and over WCKY and other stations.  They also promoted local acts with a one-hour live radio show each day.

Dallas and Bobby Smith were two brothers from Cookeville, Tennessee, who came to Dayton, Ohio, in 1959 and played around the Dayton area for about a year before leaving for Nashville. While in Dayton, they worked as a trio with Don Swaford (who called himself Don Ford) as the Smith Brothers, and played some of the same clubs that Red Allen and Bob and Sonny Osborne were playing at the time.  Several years later, the Smith Brothers changed their band name to The Boys From Shiloh.     

SPUR, THE         
The Spur was a hillbilly music bar on West Third near downtown Dayton in the same area as the original Little Mickey’s. Mac McDivitt recalls Red Allen playing there.

The Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph, probably made more appearances around the Dayton area than any of the other first-generation bluegrass bands.  They appeared at Chatauqua Park, at Antioch College, at American Legion Halls, VFWs, Maple Gardens on West Third Street, and other small clubs.  Sometimes they would appear with only lead guitar and bass player George Shuffler, and other times they would enlist local record producer and musician Jack Lynch to play bass.  Arguably, the Stanley Brothers had more of an influence on the style and repertoire of local Dayton bands than the other first-generation bands.  Natives of Virginia, their sound was more like the old mountain sound, modernized by Ralph’s driving five-string banjo and Carter’s songwriting ability and easy, laid-back vocal style.  They recorded for Columbia, Mercury, Rimrock, Cabin Creek, Blue Ridge, Rich-R-Tone, Starday, and Wango, but the bulk of their later recordings were for King Records in Cincinnati where, in 1960, their recording of “How Far To Little Rock”, a reworking of the old “Arkansas Traveler” routine, reached Number 17 on the Billboard national country chart.  Their career together was cut short when Carter passed away in 1966.  They were inducted into the IBMA Hall Of Honor in 1992.  A play was written about their life and performed by Abingdon, Virginia’s Barter Theater in 2005 and 2006.

STONE VALLEY          
Just off Interstate 74 west of Cincinnati near Harrison, Ohio, Stone Valley was home to several bluegrass festivals in the early 1980s.  The New Grass Revival made one of their rare appearances in this area at one of the Stone Valley festivals.  The name came from Joe Stone, who promoted the festivals as well as other bluegrass and country events in the area.

Mandolin player Earl Taylor’s band was named the Stoney Mountain Boys, in honor of a geological feature near Taylor’s birthplace in the southwestern Virginia coalfields.  The first version was formed by Earl in 1947, with Lucky Saylor and Elmer Kinsler.  In 1952, Earl’s band was composed of Sam “Porky” Hutchins and future Country Gentlemen leader Charlie Waller.  Later additions included Vernon “Boatwhistle” McIntyre, former Stanley Brothers fiddler Art Wooten, and Detroit legend Rufus Shoffner.  Boatwhistle remained with Earl for the next 35 years, fathering second-generation Stoney Mountain Boy Vernon “Junior” McIntyre.  In 1957, the band included Boatwhistle, Waller, and Hutchins.  Later, Walter Hensley was added on banjo and Charlie Waller dropped out to form the Country Gentlemen.  By 1959 the band was playing seven nights and two afternoons a week in Baltimore, Maryland, and had caught the attention of folk music scholar Alan Lomax who booked them into New York’s Carnegie Hall on April 3, 1959, where they became the first bluegrass band to play that hallowed hall.  The band at the time was Earl on mandolin, Walter Hensley on banjo, Sam Hutchins on guitar, and Boatwhistle on bass (Curtis Cody on fiddle was added for the New York date).  Soon after, Jim McCall joined the band and was to remain with Earl off and on for many years.  In 1961, the band moved to Cincinnati where they were to become local bluegrass legends.

The Sunny Mountain Boys is a band name once associated with Jimmy Martin & the Osborne Brothers but which remained with Jimmy Martin when that act split up.  The classic Sunny Mountain Boys, one of the tightest bluegrass bands ever, had Jimmy on guitar and lead vocals, Paul Williams on mandolin and tenor, and J.D. Crowe on banjo and baritone vocals.  Other prominent graduates of the Sunny Mountain Boys include Bill Emerson, Doyle Lawson, Gloria Belle, Vernon Derrick, Paul Craft, Bill Yates, Audie Blaylock, Kenny Ingram, Vic Jordan, Johnny Dacus, Earl Taylor, and many others.

Sunrise was a label in the Rev. William Jones’ Hamilton operation that included Pine Tree and Melody.  Sunrise recorded J.D. Jarvis, Joe “Cannonball” Lewis, and others.

The Tennessee Cut-Ups were Don Reno & Red Smiley’s backing band on King Records, other labels, and their TV and personal appearances.  The classic lineup included Don on banjo and tenor vocals, Red on guitar and lead vocals, Mack Magaha on fiddle, and John Palmer on bass.  Ronnie Reno worked with them, as did Sid Campbell and Steve Chapman.  The Cut-Ups are probably the most under-rated of the early bluegrass bands, probably because they stuck close to home in Virginia for their daily Roanoke TV show.  Don Reno’s great banjo, tenor singing, and songwriting ability, Red Smiley’s relaxed lead singing and rhythm guitar playing, Mack’s showmanship and excellent fiddle, and John Palmer’s solid bass along with the group’s comedy skits as “Chicken & Pansy Hot Rod” made the Cut-Ups an exciting group to watch.  Don Reno kept the band name after an amicable split with Red Smiley in 1964.

The Timberliners were the band that Hylo Brown put together in the late 1950s when he got a chance to do a TV show for Martha White Mills.  Hylo played guitar and sang lead, Red Rector played mandolin, Jim Smoak banjo, Clarence “Tater” Tate fiddle, and Joe “Flapjack” Phillips bass.

Located near Morrow, Ohio, the Todd’s Fork Bluegrass Festival was active in the mid 1970s and featured many top-name bluegrass acts, as well as the best of the local bands from this area.  One of the highlights was when they brought in the Lilly Brothers from Boston, one of their few (if not the only) appearances in Southwestern Ohio.

TOM’S TAVERN           
At 1511 East Fifth Street in the heart of East Dayton, Tom’s had bluegrass music every Friday and Saturday in the early 1970s.  Larry Sparks played there as he was trying to get his solo career under way.

Top Tennesee was a Dayton label that produced predominately country records, but did release the classic bluegrass record “Loneliness” by Red Spurlock and the Powell Brothers.

Proteges of Tommy Sutton, the Trace Family Trio had a very popular record in the Dayton area titled “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow.”  Consisting of a mother and two daughters, they had a lasting influence on other local gospel groups.

Few bluegrass bands were more aptly named than the Traditional Grass.  They had a wonderful classic-era sound, but with fresh songs and a very professional approach to the music.  Formed in Middletown, Ohio, in 1983 with Paul “Moon” Mullins on fiddle, Joe Mullins on banjo and tenor vocals, Mark Rader on lead guitar and lead vocals, and Bill Adams on bass, the band performed part-time until 1991, at which time they went full-time and hit the festival circuit.  After issuing four self-produced cassettes, they secured a contract with Rebel Records and put out four CDs before disbanding in 1995.  They released two more self-produced cassettes which reprised the years 1984-1994.  During their existence, the only personnel changes were adding Gerald Evans, Jr. on fiddle and mandolin, and using Glen “Cookie” Inman and, later, Mike Clevenger on bass after Bill Adams left.

A mandolin and guitar duet who were on WLW for a long time, recording for Radio Artist and Mercury Records, the Turner Brothers 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.

The Urban Appalachian Council of Greater Cincinnati was formed in 1974 with the stated goal of  “promoting a decent quality of life for the Appalachian citizens of Greater Cincinnati.”  Their various programs attempt to do this by promoting education and leadership development, providing family services, celebrating the Appalachian culture, and helping with employment and training.  In 2006, the organization is acting as fiscal agent for the Bluegrass Music Trail Project whose goal is to provide free Appalachian music lessons and instruments for poor Appalachian children.




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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