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J.E. Mainer & The Mountaineers

Mainer's Mountaineers, with their leader J.E. Mainer on fiddle, were one of the most popular string bands of the 1930s. They formed an important link between old-time string music and bluegrass, and their musical life exemplified several important aspects of the musical culture of the mountain southeast: the importance of the brother duet, the early link between country music and radio advertising, and the prevalence of turn-of-the-century sentimental song in the repertories of 1930s musicians. Mainer was born in Buncombe County, NC, and was raised in the mountains. His first instrument was the banjo, which he played at local square dances. Mainer's music, like that of other southeastern performers, offered an alternative to working in North Carolina's hellish textile mills; Mainer left home for mill work in his mid-teens, landing first in Knoxville, TN, and then in Concord, NC, where he moved in 1922 and lived for the rest of his life. At one point, having turned his banjo over to his brother Wade temporarily, he sold some agricultural seed on commission and drew his pay in the form of a tin fiddle. After he mastered the showpiece "John Henry," he invested in a better instrument. Soon he and Wade had joined with other local musicians to form a band. Mainer's appetite for performing was whetted when he started winning top prizes at fiddle contests.

By the early '30s, the commercial potential of country music on radio had been amply demonstrated, and Charlotte's Crazy Water Crystals Company (a purveyor of bottled water containing mineral salts of dubious medical value) offered Mainer's Mountaineers a series of promotional appearances and a slot on Charlotte's powerful WBT radio station. The group, now featuring John Love and Zeke Morris on guitars, was re-christened the Crazy Mountaineers and remained on WBT for four years. The fame they attained interested record companies in turn, and the group recorded its first sides for the Bluebird label in Atlanta in 1935.

One of the 14 songs recorded at that session was "Maple on the Hill," a turn-of-the-century sentimental standard originally composed by the African-American Cincinnati janitor-composer Gussie Davis. The song had been introduced to country audiences by both Vernon Dalhart and the Carter Family, but the mournful warmth of J.E.'s fiddle and Wade's banjo made it a country standard. In 1936, Wade and Zeke Morris left to form the Sons of the Mountaineers, while J.E. and his new lineup, consisting of Snuffy Jenkins, George Morris, and Leonard Stokes, spent over a year playing on radio stations in Spartanburg and Columbia. In 1939, with new musicians once again, Mainer recorded once more for Bluebird with Clyde Moody and Jay Hugh Hall. After World War II, Mainer became one of the first artists signed to the independent Cincinnati label King and made recordings with a band featuring his sons Curly and Glenn. New musical trends were in the air by then, however, and Mainer returned home to Concord. For the next 15 years he made mostly local appearances.

The Mountaineers were rediscovered during the folk revival in 1962 by Chris Strachwitz of the California-based Arhoolie label. At that time, Mainer's Mountaineers recorded The Legendary Family From the Blue Ridge Mountains, which introduced Mainer's music to a whole new generation. King reissued some of the Mountaineers recordings (such as Good Ole Mountain Music) in the early '60s, and over the course of that decade Mainer recorded several more albums and made appearances on the radio and at festivals. He continued to perform until his death in 1971. ~ James Manheim
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Log Cabin Favorites: Vintage Bluegrass & Mountain Ballads

1. Little Darling Pal Of Mine

2. The Quilting Party

3. New Kingdom Coming

4. Picture From Life's Other Side

5. Pretty Polly

6. Gathering Flowers From The Hillside

7. Mountain's Laurel

8. Death Of Floyd Collins

9. My Old Mule

10. Old Spinning Wheel

11. Whoa Mule Whoa

12. Kentucky

13. Flower Blooming In The Wildwood

14. Prisoner Of Roane County

15. Johnson's Old Grey Mule

16. Shady Grove

17. The Weary Traveler

18. Little Mother Of The Hills

19. Over The HIll To The Poor House

20. John Hardy

21. Sweet Fern

22. Cannonball No. 3

23. Wildwood Flower

24. Code Of The Mountains

25. Life's Railway To Heaven

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Track List: Sound Traditions: Appalachian Mountain Bluegrass

1. Foggy Mountain Top

2. Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee

3. Froggie Went A Courtin'

4. Cumberland Gap

5. Black Mountain Blues

6. Home Across The Blue Ridge Mountains

7. Poor Ellen Smith

8. Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies

9. Grandfather's Clock

10. Big Sandy

11. Worried Man Blues

12. Deep Elm Blues

13. Wild Bill Jones

14. Rovin' Gambler

15. Soldier's Joy

16. Darling Corey

17. Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss

18. When The Bees Are In The Hive

19. Bread And Gravy

20. Run Boy Run

21. Gathering Flowers From The Hillside

22. Mole In The Ground

23. Long Journey Home

24. Rebel Soldier

25. Fire On The Mountain

26. Tie That Binds

27. Rabbit In The Log

28. All The Good Times Are Past And Gone

29. Just Over In Glory Land

30. Amazing Grace

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Track List: Sound Traditions: The Best of Mountain Bluegrass

1. Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone

2. The Preacher & The Bear

3. Whoa, Mule Whoa

4. Hot Corn-Cold Corn

5. Lost Indian

6. Sand Mountain Blues

7. Hang Out The Front Door Key

8. Coney Isle

9. Over The Hill To The Poor House

10. Old Joe Clark

11. Little Brown Jug

12. Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar

13. Uncle Eph's Got The Coon

14. I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home

15. Cotton Eyed Joe

16. Johnson's Old Gray Mule

17. Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down

18. Weary Lonesome Blues

19. Little Birdie

20. Chiken Reel

21. The Coo Coo Bird

22. Ground Hog

23. When It's Time For The Whippoorwill To Sing

24. Mama Likes Bluegrass Music

25. Corn Bread

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