The Stonemans were an old-timey family act with deep, deep country roots... Their patriarch, Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman, was an early country star, with a career dating way back to the 1920s, where he showed up at the same fabled Bristol, Tennessee session where the Carter Family got their start. His kids inherited plenty of his sense of showmanship, and talent, too: his son Scotty Stoneman was a highly regarded performer on the Los Angeles 1960s bluegrass circuit (which morphed into the country-rock scene of the '70s), which daughters Donna and Roni were dazzling on mandolin and banjo. Roni Stoneman became arguably the most famous of them all, as an original cast member of the Hee Haw TV show. During the 'Sixties folk boom, the Stonemans found a resurgence of interest in their music, and tried to hit the bigtime, mixing old-fashioned mountain sound with the glitzy modern show-biz style of the new Nashville. It wasn't always an easy balance to make, particularly as the venerated but aging vocalist, Pop Stoneman, slowed them down quite a bit, but his kooky sense of humor made for some interesting records. Here's a look at their work, old and new.
Various Artists "THE BRISTOL SESSIONS" (Country Music Foundation, 1987)
Welcome to the country music motherlode. In 1927, Victor Records A&R representative Ralph Peer set up a recording studio in a rural Tennessee hotel, and brought to the world the first recordings of the Carter Family, as well as future superstar, blues yodeller Jimmie Rodgers. Old-timey singer Ernest V. Stoneman, the patriach of the Stoneman family, also made his debut, along with gospel singers Alfred G. Karnes and Ernest Phipps and various stringbands, as well as a slew of local performers who never enjoyed the commercial success of the more luminous stars mentioned above. This 2-disc set is completely fabulous -- if you like old-timey hill music, this is the Appalachian Rosetta stone, an absolutely essential collection.
Ernest V. Stoneman "1928 Edison Recordings" (County, 1996)
Ernest Stoneman "...And His Dixie Mountaineers" (Diamond Cut, 1998)
Ernest Stoneman "...With Family And Friends, v.1" (Old Homestead)
Ernest Stoneman "...With Family And Friends, v.2" (Old Homestead)
Ernest Stoneman "Gospel Music Treasures" (King, 2003)
Ernest Stoneman "The Unsung Father Of Country Music: 1925-1934" (Five-String Productions, 2008)
E. V. "Pop" Stoneman & The Stoneman Family "The Great Old Timer At The Capital " (Starday, 1964) (LP)
The Stoneman Family "Old-Time Tunes Of The South" (Folkways, 1957)
The Stoneman Family "28 Big Ones" (King, 2000)
An unusually generous King/Gusto collection, with over two dozen tracks included (as opposed to the label's standard skimpy eight or ten songs...) This is more traditionally-oriented material: you can hear the band tearing it up on a few of the instrumental tunes on this disc, although the vocal numbers are a little clunky. Still, it's a great assortment of material, ranging from gospel and novelty numbers to topical ballads like "The Sinking Of The Titanic" and "Heroes Of Bataan," written about the conflict in WWII. I'm not sure of the vintage of these recordings, but it's pretty recent, to be sure -- early 1970s, perhaps?
The Stoneman Family "Family Tradition: The Stoneman Legacy" (CMH, 2002)
The Stonemans "In All Honesty" (Omni, 2007)
The Stonemans "All In The Family" (Omni, 2011)
A kooky collection of oddball bluegrass-pop from the mid-1960s edition of the Stoneman family band. "Pop" Stoneman died in 1968, so these MGM sessions were his swan song, and feature a lot of novelty songs, including many written by their producer, Jack Clement, and by Vince Matthews, who must have been a Clements crony... Some of the weirder offerings include "West Canterbury Subdivision Blues," in which a middle-class husband laments his inability to buy his wife's happiness with a ranch home and modern appliances (not when some good-looking milkman shows up and makes goo-goo eyes at her); in "The Five Little Johnson Girls," the singer inexplicably dreams of becoming an astronaut, in hopes that one of five fairhaired sisters will fall in love with him. One of the best songs is the album's clincher, "God Is Alive And Well," an early Eddie Rabbitt composition (!) which aimed at shutting up the atheists and agnostics for once and for all. This generously programmed CD makes a nice followup to Omni's 2007 collection, "In All Honesty," which examined their RCA recordings from the years that followed Ernest Stoneman's death...
Scotty Stoneman "Mr. Country Fiddler" (Design) (LP)
Scotty Stoneman & The Kentucky Colonels "1965 Live In L.A!" (Sierra Briar, 1978)
Archival tapes that capture fiddler Scotty Stoneman joining the legendary Kentucky Colonels band and tearing it up on the LA folk scene... Nice stuff, though the sound quality is kind of rough.
The Stonemans "Those Singin', Swingin', Stompin', Sensational Stonemans" (MGM, 1966) (LP)
The Stonemans "Stonemans' Country" (MGM, 1967) (LP)
The Stonemans "All In The Family" (MGM, 1967) (LP)
The Stonemans "The Great Stonemans" (MGM, 1968) (LP)
The Stonemans "The Pop Stoneman Memorial Album" (MGM, 1968) (LP)
Hick Music Index