By Paul Jossman
Photograph by Martin Benjamin
If you listen to the music of Ralph Stanley, from his first recordings with his brother Carter in the 1950s to those made after the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” introduced him to a larger audience, it is unchanged – essential, no frills, old time country and sacred music.
The story of the song was foremost, and the instrumental breaks were in the service of the melody and not the aggrandizement of the player. He was faithful to this ideal his whole life, and with the Biblical authority acquired over the course of his long career, he was a true legend.
Of course, there will never be anyone like him again as he came out of a time and place that doesn’t exist anymore. As he enjoyed renewed success in his late career, he certainly enjoyed remembering tghose early years of touring, playing high school auditoriums and 5am radio shows and selling albums out of the trunk of the car.
And that haunting voice, he sounded like an old man when he was in his twenties… and it just got better.
Among fans of traditional music he was known simply as Ralph. There was only one.
RIP: Ralph Stanley, 1927-2016