Since his first banjo lesson at the ripe old age of 3, Ralph Stanley II has performed and recorded often with his famous father, Dr. Ralph Stanley.
But the father/son duo's latest collaboration, "Side By Side," released in February on the Rebel Records label, marks the first time the two men have released music as artists of equal billing and creative input.
"We had never recorded one as our names together out front," said the younger Stanley, or "Two," as he's called by family and friends. "I had recorded with him a many a time as a band member of the Clinch Mountain Boys, but this time I'd been on my own, with my own band for a few years and then we kind of reunited and done this CD together. I did all the lead guitar work on the album — I never had done that with him on a record — and sang. We done a few new tunes and then we done some older Stanley brothers songs that I heard when I was a kid that I wanted to do with him."
Co-produced by the younger Stanley and John Rigsby, a former member of the elder Stanley's fabled Clinch Mountain Boys band who also plays fiddle and mandolin on the album, "Side By Side" is a compelling collection of 14 new and traditional songs.
Among the highlights are classics from the pens of A.P. Carter, Charlie Monroe, Albert Brumley and Ernest Tubb and two Ralph Stanley originals as well as samples of Stanley's a cappella and clawhammer banjo stylings. Two other former Clinch Mountain Boys — banjoist Steve Sparkman and bassist Randall Hibbitts — also back the Stanleys on the album.
"I wanted it to kind of bring back the feel of the old Stanley Brothers, just the classic Stanley sound," Ralph II said.
While he's proud of the project from start to finish, the younger Stanley said he's particularly fond of the track "Nobody Answered Me."
"That's an old one that my dad sang with my uncle Carter, probably in somebody's basement in the '60s in Maryland, around Baltimore," Ralph II said. "A long-time fan who had been coming to my shows with just my band, he said 'There's a song that if you ever record with your dad or do a song with your dad, you need to do this song.' He sent me a copy, and they knocked it out of the park. It's a real pretty song. It's kind of like another 'Rank Stranger' in a way. It's got that same feel. I really thought that turned out extra great myself."
Father and son will showcase selections from "Side by Side" at the elder Stanley's 44th Annual Memorial Weekend Bluegrass Festival, to be held May 22-24 at Stanley's old homeplace in Coeburn, Va.
This year's musical lineup will feature performances by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, Adkins & Loudermilk and more than a dozen other groups.
The festival also features food and merchandise vendors, shower facilities, and water and dump stations on the grounds, along with 24-hour-a-day security. No alcohol or coolers are allowed in the concert area.
Tickets are $35 per day or $100 for all three days and are available only at the gate.
At the request of his father, the younger Stanley has helmed festival preparations for the last three years.
"Dad told me then, he said 'Two, I'm getting older and I just want to ask you a question. Would you be interested in coordinating the festival and being responsible for it all?' I said, 'Well, dad, I don't know. That would be a big job.' Financially, the economy hasn't been that great. He said, 'Well, if you don't take it over I'll probably have to close it down because I'm not able to keep up with everything that needs to be done.' He said, 'I will be there for you as long as I'm able, to play for you. You can continue to run it in my name. I hope you can keep it going,' so that pretty much made up my mind for me when he put it that way.
"We done real good the first year. Last year the weather was kind of bad and it was a little off but it was still a good crowd. I know he wants to see it go on and I do too. It means a lot to me because I grew up there. He's done a lot of work to the park, and I've done a lot in the last three years myself to try to improve it and make it as good a time as people can have there."
At 87, the elder Stanley, a three-time Grammy winner, still keeps an active touring schedule. He had planned to retire at the end of 2014, but has since changed his mind.
"God has had his hand on my career for the past 68 years," Stanley says on his website. "It's up to Him when I will quit. I have no plans of slowing down. I love my fans, and I love performing."
Still, Ralph II isn't taking a minute with his father for granted.
"You never know, young or old, anything could happen to any of us, but I guess it crosses your mind, this could be the last project we get to do," the younger Stanley said. "I would hope we might get to do another one."
To find out more about Ralph Stanley II, visit his website at www.ralph2.com.
For more information about the festival, visit www.drralphstanleyfestival.com.comments powered by Disqus