Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"The Grandfather Of Bluegrass" Wade Mainer Passes Away

Wade Mainer, the legendary banjo player from Weaverville whose mastery of early mountain music earned him the title “grandfather of bluegrass,” died at his home in Flint, Michigan yesterday. He was 104.

Mainer’s friends and fellow musicians credit him with preserving traditional Southern Appalachian music and helping to shape contemporary bluegrass.

"Wade Mainer's influence is far-reaching,” said David Holt, a Grammy-winning musician and storyteller who knew Mainer for years. “Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley all have said that after hearing Wade, it changed their music,” Holt said.

Mainer, who died Monday, grew up listening to his family play the mountain music of the region and by the 1920s was performing publicly with his wife, Julia Mainer. In the 1930s he experimented with innovations that would set the stage for Monroe, Earl Scruggs and others as bluegrass evolved. With his band, the Sons of the Mountaineers, he is credited with bridging the gap between old-time mountain music and Bluegrass and is sometimes called the "Grandfather of Bluegrass." In addition, he innovated a two-finger banjo fingerpicking style, which was a precursor to modern three-finger bluegrass styles.

Originally from North Carolina, Mainer's main influences came from the mountain music of his family. In a career that began in 1934 and spanned almost six decades, Mainer transitioned from being a member of his brother's band into the founder of his own ensemble, the Sons of the Mountaineers, with whom he performed until 1953, when he became more deeply involved with his Christianity and left the music industry. After working at a General Motors factory and attending gospel revivals,

“The Steep Canyon Rangers had the privilege of hearing Wade Mainer sing ‘I Can’t Sit Down,’” said band member Woody Platt. The Steep Canyon Rangers perform regularly with major artist Steve Martin. “We were so taken by the song and the energy between the two of them we went home and arranged our version. To this day it is one of our most requested songs,” Platt said.

Buncombe County native and Grammy-nominated banjo player George Buckner learned Mainer’s style, visited with him here and at his home in Michigan and performed with Mainer on the radio in Asheville in 2004. “Wade Mainer was the first person to record bluegrass standards like ‘Little Maggie’ and ‘Take Me in Your Lifeboat,’ and a lot of others, before Bill Monroe or Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs did. He is a really important person in the history of the music. He will be dearly missed by me and many others,” Buckner said.

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