Chances are you don’t know who Ralph Stanley is. That’s because you’re an effete Eastern liberal who wouldn’t know the real thing if it whacked you upside the head with a banjo. Well, when the real thing does whack you upside the head with a banjo, if you are blessed that banjo will be held by Ralph Stanley.
Ralph Stanley is it. He is THE man of bluegrass and real country music.
Although he needs no introduction, we’ll go ahead and give him one anyway. Ralph was born in Dickenson County, Virginia, where he still resides when he’s not on the road. After 55 years in the business, he’s still the best banjo picker and tenor singer in bluegrass music. As a recording artist, he has performed on more than 170 albums, tapes, and CDs. He’s also written many songs himself and with his brother, the late Carter Stanley.
The one place you liberal punks might have seen him is in O Brother Where Art Thou? He sings O Death and if that isn’t the voice of fate, it’s as close as I want to get.
Well, Dr. Stanley (seen below with an unnamed fan) has endorsed Obama.
Not just endorsed but cut a radio ad: “Howdy, friends. This is Ralph Stanley, and I think I know a little something about the families around here. … Barack’ll cut taxes for everyday folks — not big business — so you’ll have a little more money in your pocket at the end of the year … I also know Barack is a good man. A father and devoted husband, he values personal responsibility and family first.” (click on link to hear entire ad)
Among your true Rednecks (a phrase used here with admiration), this is a huge endorsement. This will have ripples as people who revere Dr. Stanley — many of whom are as red state as you can possibly be — will give Obama some extra thought. These people are key influencers. (Not counting effete Easterners like myself.)
This ad may only get aired in Virginia, but it will get heard around the nation.
My initial reaction when this news broke a couple weeks back was, “Truly, these are the end times,” but then several folks to whom I forwarded the NY Times story informed me that Ralph is a died-in-the-wool populist and a life-long Democrat, and so it was not such a shock to them.
My view of Ralph was shaped by any number of disgustingly racist and sexist stories I’ve heard about both Ralph and Carter over the years, including this lunchtime interchange from the performer’s dining tent at the Newport Folk Festival, ca. 1964:
Ralph (standing behind a seated Mississippi John Hurt): “Where I come from, we don’t eat with his kind.”
John: “Then I guess you ain’t gon’ eat.”
I like to think that Ralph’s very vocal support for Obama just demonstrates that no one is beyond redemption, and also demonstrates that that old “southren” thing is waaaaaaay more complex than you white Northeastern liberals (oops, me one too!) can fathom.
The thing to remember is that man, did those mountain folks love the blues! They sucked up race records like nobody’s business. Bill Monroe very consciously brought a strong seam of blues into the music he had a primary place in helping to create, and remains one of the greatest blues mandolin players who ever lived (I can’t pass any judgment on the ones who didn’t).
One more comment. You state that, “Ralph Stanley is it. He is THE man of bluegrass and real country music.” When did Earl Scruggs die? It was his playing that inspired Ralph to perfect his own three-finger style of syncopated banjo playing. But maybe I’m just being picky . . .
You are being finger picky! Ok, so Ralph Stanley is one of THE men? How’s that?
An acceptable edit. Thanks.
I hope Mr. Ralph didn’t say that to Mississippi John Hurt, but after reading Ralph’s biography I wouldn’t be surprised. It shows a side of Ralph Stanley that doesn’t show up in his performances…..on TV. I gave the book away. It was a disappointment.