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J.E. Mainer

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

x

Track List: 1935-1939: The Early Recordings

Disc 1

1. Ship Sailing Now

2. This World Is Not My Home

3. Maple On The Hill

4. Take Me In The Lifeboat

5. Seven And A Half

6. New Curly Headed Baby

7. Let Her Go God Bless Her

8. City On The Hill

9. Longest Train

11. Lights In The Valley

12. Goin' Back West In The Fall

13. New Lost Train Blues

14. Number 111

15. I Am Walking In The Light

16. Don't Cause Mother's Hair To Turn Grey

17. When I Reach My Home Eternal

18. Fatal Wreck Of The Bus

19. Behind The Parlor Door

20. Satisfied

21. One To Love Me

22. On A Cold Winter Night

23. John Henry Was A Little Boy

24. Old And Faded Picture

25. Take Me Home To The Sweet Sunny South

Disc 2

1. Walk That Lonesome Valley

2. Got A Home In That Rock

3. Johnson's Old Grey Mule

4. Won't Be Worried Long

5. Goin' Down The River Of Jordan

6. Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls?

7. Watermelon On The Vine

8. We Can't Be Darlings Anymore

9. Tell Mother I'll Meet Her

10. In A Little Village Churchyard

11. Come Back To Your Dobie Shack

12. Just As The Sun Went Down

13. What Would You Give In Exchange

14. Leaf From The Sea

15. Brown Eyes

17. Going To Georgia

19. Mother Came To Get Her Boy From Jail

20. Where The Red, Red Roses Grow

21. Cradle Days

22. Gathering Flowers From The Hills

23. My Mother Is Waiting

24. If I Could Hear My Mother

25. Nobody's Darling On Earth

Disc 3

1. Shake Hands With Mother

2. They Said My Lord Was A Devil

3. Won't Somebody Pal With Me

4. Hop Along Peter

5. Just One Way To The Pearly Gates

6. Dear Daddy You're Gone

7. Been Foolin' Me Baby

8. I'll Be A Friend Of Jesus

9. Cowboy's Pony In Heaven

10. Little Birdie

11. Always Been A Rambler

12. Starting Life Anew With You

13. Little Rosebuds

14. Train Carry My Girl Back Home

15. In The Land Beyond The Blue

16. Change All Around

17. Short Life And It's Trouble

18. Dying Boy's Prayer

19. Free Again

20. Answer To "Two Little Rosebuds"

21. I'm Not Turning Backward

22. Riding On That Train Forty-Five

23. Little Maggie

24. Little Pal

25. Down In The Willow

Disc 4

1. My Wife Went Away And Left Me

2. Railroad Blues

5. What Makes Him Do It

6. My Little Red Ford

12. Where Is My Mama?

17. Walkin' In My Sleep

18. Father, Dear Father

19. I Shall Not Be Moved

21. Darling Think What You Have Done

22. Story Of Charlie Lawson

24. Just How Pretty You Smile

25. Married Woman Blues

x

Track List: Classic Sides 1937-41

Disc 1

18. If I Lose, Let Me Lose

24. Wild Bill Jones

Disc 2
Disc 3

11. Crying Holy

23. Shake My Mother's Hand For Me

Disc 4

24. Country Blues

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