Local author Eddie Dean reflects on his favorite performances from bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley


This fall, esteemed local music journalist Eddie Dean teamed up with bluegrass giant Ralph Stanley to release Stanley's autobiography "Man of Constant Sorrow." Co-authored by Dean, the book follows Stanley on his journey from his Big Spraddle Creek, Virginia, through his legendary run with the Stanley Brothers, to his appearance on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack and the Grammy he earned for it in 2002, to today.

The 82-year-old Stanley plays the Birchmere Saturday night -- a show that is not to be missed. In anticipation of the gig, Post Rock asked Dean to recount his fondest memories of Ralph Stanley in concert -- and two of them took place at the Birch!

(Eddie Dean's five favorite Ralph Stanley performances, after the jump)

1) Spottswood Lounge, Ruckersville, Virginia. Early 80s.
In a little roadside tavern, first time I heard Ralph sing "Rank Stranger" live, first time I saw fiddler Curly Ray Cline do his Curly-Ray-souvenir-key-chain-hawking dance, first time I bought a "Ralph Stanley for President" bumper sticker. The night I became a full convert.

2) Stompin' Festival, Buffalo Gap, West Virginia. 1999.
A freak thunderstorm blows out the electrical power, so Ralph and the Clinch Mountain Boys perform without microphones in a shelter for a rapt crowd of wet hippies sitting at their feet. His recitation "Hills of Home," a tribute to Ralph's late brother Carter, drifts through the still trees.

3) Clintwood Nursing Home, Dickenson County, Virginia. 2007.
Ralph plays old mountain song "Shout Little Lulie" on clawhammer banjo -- an instrumental he learned from his mother Lucy -- and he gets an 80-year-old out of his chair and buck-dancing like a kid.

4) and 5) Birchmere Club, Alexandria, Virginia. June 2009.
Ralph does his "Climate/Climb It" comedy routine. Comedy has been a big part of Stanley's live act since he started in 1946. Dylan still does old Stanley Brothers jokes in his live shows. ("Toe-Truck" being a favorite.) Ralph sings "Gloryland," an a capella gospel hymn, that he has sang at funerals for former Clinch Mountain Boys like Curly Ray. Early this month, on December 1, the same day his brother Carter died back in 1966, Ralph lost his long-time bassman Jack Cooke, who had played for Ralph for almost 40 years.

And one non-concert memory, overheard in the smoking area outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant in central Virginia as Stanley's tour bus pulled out of parking lot:
"Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys make the Del McCoury Band sound like the Backstreet Boys."

By Chris Richards |  December 11, 2009; 12:24 PM ET Bluegrass , Interviews , Legends
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Mr. Dean, I've heard that Mr. Stanley can be a difficult interview .... what was the biggest challenge in getting him to open up and how did you overcome it?

Posted by: cbbaldwin23 | December 13, 2009 7:59 AM

There is a live performance from McCabe's guitar shop that was released on DCN records I think, maybe 2001 ... do you recommend that show?

Posted by: cbbaldwin23 | December 13, 2009 9:45 AM

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