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Carl Story
and the Rambling Mountaineers
Born:  May 29, 1916
Died:  March 31, 1995
Bluegrass Hall of Honor (2007)
WNOX Midday Merry-Go-Round
WNOX Tennessee Barn Dance
WSM Grand Ole Opry
WAYS Charlotte, NC
WCKI Greer, SC
WCYB Bristol, TN
WFLW Monticello, KY
WHKY Hickory, NC
WLVA Lynchburg, VA
WNOX Knoxville, TN
WROL Knoxville, TN
WSPA Spartansburg, SC
WWNC Asheville, NC

About The Artist

In Progress...

Carl Story is often termed the "father of bluegrass gospel music" although he did not actually use a 5-string banjo on his recordings until 1955. Nonetheless, many of his earlier discs often came close to bluegrass with a spirited mandolin often played by Red Rector. His bluegrass image was solidified by a long series of bluegrass albums during the 1960s for Starday Records as well as steady appearances at bluegrass festivals almost until the time of his death.

A native of Lenoir in Caldwell County, North Carolina, Carl grew up in a family with an old time fiddler father who often bought Charlie Poole's Columbia recordings with "Monkey on a String" being a particular favorite. Like his father, Carl was initially a fiddle player, but later shifted to guitar.

By the mid-1930s, Carl was working in a Mead Corporation paper mill where he won a talent contest and soon obtained a quarter-hour weekly show at 250-watt WLVA in Lynchburg, Virginia. Later he and boyhood friend banjo picking Johnnie Whisnant worked in a group, J. E. Clark's Lonesome Mountaineers at WSPA Spartanburg, South Carolina. Story, Whisnant and a couple of others soon went on their own calling themselves the Rambling Mountaineers.

In 1938 the Rambling Mountaineers moved to brand new WHKY Hickory and then to WWNC Asheville in 1939. In Asheville, the band did fairly well, adding former Wade Mainer sideman Jack Shelton to their group and had a sponsor, the Vim Herb Company. But the approach of World War II and then Pearl Harbor began to create havoc. Shelton was drafted early in 1942 followed by Whisnant and Dudley Watson. Ray Atkins and Buster Moore were with him briefly. Carl, as virtually the only Rambling Mountaineer left, opted to join Bill Monroe as a fiddler in early 1943 for about eight months until he, too, entered the U. S. Navy until October 1945.

Back in civilian life, Carl organized a new Rambling Mountaineers band at WWNC with Jack Shelton and his brother Curly on mandolin, former Carlisle sideman Claude Boone, and Hoke Jenkins, another 5-string banjo pioneer. After two months they went to WNOX Knoxville, still sponsored by the Vim Herb product, Scalf's Indian River Medicine. The band was based in Knoxville for about five years. Carl went to WCYB Bristol briefly and then to WAYS in Charlotte doing both radio and TV.

Meanwhile, Carl and the band landed a record contract with Mercury, then on their way to major label status. He did his first session in September 1947 and would remain with them through 1952 recording over fifty numbers of his best work. By and large, the better the band the better they sounded. Various band members came and went although Claude Boone was a regular for some twenty years. Other than that, Red Rector with his ability to sing both lead and tenor was a key figure. Others were Clyde and Hack Johnson, Cotton Galyon, Tater Tate, Fred Smith, Willie and Bud Brewster, and sometimes either Clyde and Marie Denny or Bonnie Lou and Buster Moore (the latter also had a regular morning TV program at WJHL in Johnson City, but worked personals with Carl).

In August of 1950, Johnny Sippel told readers of The Billboard that Charley Lamb had resigned from the Mercury Records label and became manager of Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers. At that time, the group included Carl Story, Claude Boone, Red Rector, Cotton Gaylon and Kentucky Slim.

Promo Ad - Jamboree of '53 - City Auditorium -Asheville, NC - Bill Monroe - Dukeof Paducah - Tommy Soseby - Radio Dot and Smoky - Carl Story and his Ramblin' Mountainneers - Jan 1, 1953
Promo Ad - Carl Story - Carolina Jamboree - WAYS - Charlotte, NC - Feb 1953

Promo Ad - Auditorium - Asheville, NC - Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers - December 31, 1942

Promo Ad - Palace Theater - Petersburg, VA - Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers - May 1955
Promo Ad - Old Dominion Barn Dance - WRVA Theatre - Richmond, VA - Sunshine Sue - Carl Story and his Ramblin' Mountaineers - April 1955

Promo Ad - Valley View Park - York, PA - Blue Ridge Quartet - Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers - June 1, 1974

Promo Ad - Smokey Valley - Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers - Ray Meyers, Armless Musician - February 1958
Promo Ad - Acuff-Rose Publications - Why Don't You Haul Off And Get Religion - Billboard - February 1950

Promo Ad - Variety Show and Dance - Charlotte Armory - Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks - Billy Knauff - Carl Story and the Mountaineers - Fleet Green - Fred Kirby and the Briarhoppers - Roy Barmir - Lee Ferebee - Charlotte Musicians Association - March 1953
Promo Ad - Boro Week - West Hazleton VFW Big Street Carnival - Montana Paul - Mickey Denley and the Mello-Aires - July 1953

Gospel numbers became increasingly, but never exclusively, associated with the band. His best known numbers included "My Lord Keeps a Record," "If You Don't Love Your Neighbor," "God Had a Son in Service," and quality arrangements of songs like "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire" and "From the Manger to the Cross" were outstanding. Rapid delivery songs with Red Rector on mandolin were probably the best.

After a couple of years in Charlotte, Carl went back to Knoxville about 1953 for another three years. Rock and roll began to take a toll on more traditional sounding groups about this time. And even if he was not doing TV, he increasingly relied on musicians who worked for Cas Walker, such as Boone and the Brewsters.

In 1953, Carl and the Rambling Moutaineers were performing over WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee. Carl also had a hymn program that was on Sundays at 7:30am.

Group members included in 1953 included:

  • Carl Story
  • Claude Boone (B: February 18, 1916 — D: February 23, 2007)
  • Cotton Galyon (B: November 15, 1925 — D: November 17, 2002)
  • Red Rector (B: December 15, 1929 — D: May 31, 1990)

Carl also went with Columbia Records in 1953 for a couple of years cutting a new arrangement of "My Lord Keeps a Record," and a Louvin composition "Love and Wealth" as most notable among the sixteen songs on that label. Rector, Boone, and Ray Atkins helped furnish support as well as some Nashville session musicians.

Carl Story and Don Gibson were part of a special night on the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville in late 1954. It was dubbed WNOX World Premiere Night. Why? Don and Carl were going to introduce their latest Columbia record releases. Don premiered "Symptoms of Love" and "Many Times I Waited." Carl premiered "Step It Up And Go" and "Have You Come To Say Goodbye." The show aired from the WNOX auditorium/studio located at 110 South Gay Street in Knoxville. The auditorium/studio was filled to capacity with 750 people. Lowell Blanchard served as emcee for the show, which included 30 minutes broadcast over the CBS network.

By August 1955, he was back with Mercury and did two four-song sessions that year, and two more in 1957; he had gone full bluegrass. Ironically, when many country artists were trying to sound more modern, Carl went in the opposite direction. Bluegrass he became and bluegrass he remained. His first session on February 25, 1957 included Tater Tate on fiddle, Willie Brewster on mandolin, and Bud Brewster on banjo.. The songs included "Light at the River" which eventually ranked with "My Lord Keeps a Record" as Carl's best known numbers and the instrumental "Mocking Banjo." It was the first full bluegrass treatment of a tune that later became more famous via the movie soundtrack on Deliverance. An August session yielded another Story standard "Family Reunion" and more original banjo tunes, but with Bobby Thompson on banjo. In 1957, the entire band went to WLOS-TV in Asheville where they were based for about two years. From 1958, he primarily did deejay work at various locales, but also made personal appearances on a regular basis.

Carl Story and His Rambling Mountaineers - WCCB - Frank Hamilton - Bruce Jones - Lee Jones - Clermon (C.E.) Ward; Carl Story>

When Mercury and Starday Records concluded their short term merger, Carl Story and 
the Rambling Mountaineers ended up on Starday where he remained for over a decade. His 
first session in October 1958 was cut in Monticello, Kentucky where Carl was working as 
a deejay. Support came from the Brewster Brothers and probably Benny Sims on fiddle. 
For the next year Bonnie Lou and Buster Moore, Lloyd Bell, Chuck

Pickin' Magazine Cover - Jan 1978 - Carl Story Through the 1960s, Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers turned out about a dozen albums for Starday Records, most often with Claude Boone and the Brewster Brothers, and Tater Tate sometimes on fiddle. Like the Stanley Brothers who often recorded for other firms between contracts, Carl did the same, so he had albums on Rimrock, Scripture, Spar, and Songs of Faith in between. By the end of the 1960s, the Jones Brothers (Bruce and Lee) replaced the Brewsters and they had a weekly TV program at WCCB in Charlotte. By this time Carl lived in Greer, South Carolina and did deejay work through the week. The Jones Brothers also did three Starday albums (SLP 411. 438, & 447) with Carl in the 1968-1970 period and another for Pine Tree. By this time bluegrass festivals were keeping them busy on warm weather weekends.

Bluegrass festival work enabled Carl to maintain a quality band, at least through the festival season although there were frequent personnel changes. Mitchell Moser was a frequent bass player, Larry Beasley (banjo), Harold Austin (lead vocal-guitar), Fred Richardson (banjo), George Hazelwood (mandolin), and Billy Baker (fiddle) were among them. Red Rector also came back and did some session work, but did not travel with the band. He even recorded a final Starday album (SLP 488) in the seventies, but it was so scarce, one sometimes doubts if it was actually released. But Carl did have new albums that appeared on several labels in the seventies and early eighties, but those on CMH probably had the best distribution. All but one was gospel. Some of his earlier Mercury and Columbia material also appeared on such labels as Cattle in Germany and Old Homestead which were aimed at the collector market. With plenty of material available Carl seems to have cut back on recording from the mid 1980s.

Carl Story
Record Reviews From The Billboard and Cash Box
Date Label Rec No. Review
3/13/1948 (BB) Mercury 6093 Love Is A Game — Bouncy, with twangy guitars lending satisfactory support. (Overall Rating: 65)

I Heard My Mother Weeping — Slow-paced Western wailer. Sob vocal sells. (Overall Rating: 77)
5/22/1948 (BB) Mercury 6106 I'm Gonna Change My Way Of Living — Revival shoutin', hill style, heavy with the screeching. (Overall Rating: 40)

I Heard My Name On the Radio — Orthodox rural spiritual, sung with more cohesion and restraint than the flip. (Overall Rating: 58)
10/16/1948 (BB) Mercury 6128 She's A Two-Timin' Woman — Routine country blues features so-so chanting. Orking spots fiddle and guitar bits. (Overall Rating: 54)

Who's That Man? — Brightly paced warbling by Carl and the boys. Sparkling guitar bits add to good effect. (Overall Rating: 77)
2/12/1949 (BB) Mercury 6082 You're A Prisoner In My Heart — Mountain warbler does a warm sincere vocal on a simple back country torcher. Ingenuous, boyish quality in his voice is engaging. (Overall Rating: 75)

I Wanna Be A Railroad Man — Same appeal is projected on strong piece of novelty material. String backing well played. (Overall Rating: 75)
3/12/1949 (BB) Mercury 6165 The Circle Was Broken — This is a happy blend of country religion and sentiment done with full feeling and conviction by Story and his group. (Overall Rating: 77)

My Lord Keeps A Record — Story and his group turn in a relaxed etching of a good piece of mountain religion. (Overall Rating: 79)
3/12/1949 (BB) Mercury 6165 I Watched You Walk Away — Nothing special happens on this side. (Overall Rating: 61)

Tennessee Border — Story's lusty rendition of the up-and-comin' mountain ditty should make a fair bid for juke play. (Overall Rating: 79)
6/24/1949 (BB) Mercury 6220 Heaven's Inside — Story's group snaps out some ferent sacred shouting in the back-country tradition. (Overall Rating: 75)

I'm Pressing On — Lacks some of the melodic and rhythmic interest of flip. (Overall Rating: 70)
2/4/1950 (BB) Mercury 6229 Will There Be A Traffic Light — Mountain harmony group speculates about the possibility of stop lights in the streets heareafter. (Overall Rating: 63)

Why Don't You Haul Off And Get Religion — Title tells the story—an exhortation to belief, projected in nasal mountain style by Story and group with much evangelical conviction. (Overall Rating: 72)
10/11/1952 (BB) Mercury 6413 Lead Me Out — Foot-tapping sacred item is handed a good reding by Story and the vocal group. Should go well in the South-Western market. (Overall Rating: 76)

Are You Afraid To Die? — The warbler and the vocal group do a nice job with this serious religious opus. (Overall Rating: 71)
5/30/1953 (BB) Mercury 70157 Way Down Deep In My Soul — Spirited gospel effort receives an effective vocal rendition by Story and the group over a hoe-down backng. For the Southern and Western family market. (Overall Rating: 73)

I'll Live With God (To Die No More) — The hill country may go for this sacred side which features a group vocal and some nice solo work by the warbler on the medium-tempo tune. (Overall Rating: 69)
1/30/1954 (BB) Columbia 21205 My Lord Keeps A Record — Down home reading by Story and the vocal group should please many country buyers. (Overall Rating: 68)

Someone To Lean On — More of the same kind of revival-meeting type of sacred music. (Overall Rating: 68)
5/29/1954 (BB) Columbia 21250 Have You Come To Say Goodbye — Okay reading of some okay material. (Overall Rating: 68)

Step It Up and Go — Same comment. (Overall Rating: 68)
11/27/1954 (BB) Columbia 21327 It's A Lonesome Road — Gospel opus is chanted to a pleasant beat in the string ork. Should do well in the rural areas. (Overall Rating: 67)

Love Me Like You Used To Do — Most attractive element here is the tight harmony of the vocal combo supporting Story. (Overall Rating: 67)
3/12/1955 (BB) Mercury 70547 They Have Gone Home — Story and the boys team up nicely on an above average sacred opus which should do well with Bible Belt customers. (Overall Rating: 72)

Follow Him — Moregood sacred music done in a warm fashion. (Overall Rating: 72)
5/14/1955 (BB) Mercury 70606 Troubles and Trials — Story and the Ramblin' Mountaineers get pretty excited as they happily contemplate the day when earthly tribulations will be over. A lively upbeat number that will please Bible Belt customers. (Overall Rating: 74)

Land Of Eternal Peace — A prettily harmonized vision of the world beyond. The material is smoothly read and given a pleasant, bouncy beat. (Overall Rating: 72)
6/11/1955 (BB) Columbia 21399 Reunion In Heaven — Fair sacred side, with authentic country instrumentation. (Overall Rating: 71)

I Love The Hymns They Sang At Mother's Grave — Same comment. (Overall Rating: 71)
9/24/1955 (BB) Columbia 21444 You've Been Tom Cattin' Around — Amusing tongue-in-cheek warbling on a slick novelty with good lyrics. Story penned the tunes on both sides of the platter. Should pull considerable spins, with title making it a good juke bet in particular. (Overall Rating: 78)

What A Line — Same comment. (Overall Rating: 75)
9/24/1955 (BB) Mercury 70687 Echoes From The Burning Bush — A superb performance of a sacred standard which had not been recorded in quite a while. Story and the Ramblin' Mountaineers are in top form as they swing this popular material. (Overall Rating: 77)

By The Hands Of God — Story and the group harmonize effectively on this new gospel song which ought to become a favorite of sacred customers, too. It is handled with taste and sincerity and bosts a good beat. (Overall Rating: 75)
1/28/1956 (BB) Mercury 70785 God Put A Rainbow In The Clouds — The simple tale of God's goodness is told againin an effective and multi-versed version. Sotry and male group sound fine. (Overall Rating: 76)

Get On Board Little Children — Group sounds good again in enthusiastic reading of a spiritual standard. (Overall Rating: 62)
5/5/1956 (BB) Mercury 70856 Mother Is Old — In the personal appearances of Story and his Ramblin' Mountaineers, this has always been a much-requested number. They do a splendid harmonizing job on this sentimental material. (Overall Rating: 78)

Road Of Prayer — This upbeat tune is attractive and is rendered excitingly by the singer. Both sides should enjoy considerable radio exposure and sales in the Bible Belt. (Overall Rating: 77)
4/13/1957 (BB) Mercury 71088 Mocking Banjo — Some mighty flashy banjo pickin' in a rapid-fire tempo. Great country jock programming and it could be a good juke coin puller. (Overall Rating: 71)

Light At The River — A fervent sacred reading with banjos prominent. Choral group shouts out the back-country religious philosophy. Flip side is stronger programming. (Overall Rating: 68)
11/4/1957 (BB) Mercury 71218 Banjolina — A swingy virtuoso performance In fancy banjo pickin'. A lot of bright sound on the instrumental side with flashy tiddling also In evidence. Good juke material for the right areas. (Overall Rating: 72)

Family Reunion — This has the backwoods, down-home feeling aplenty. Violin and banjo back the solos which are interspersed with folksy chorus work. Side also has a touch of the sacred. For the traditional minded. (Overall Rating: 70)
2/17/1958 (BB) Mercury 71218 Saviour's Love — Lively gospel tune is sung with spirit by Carl Story and a vocal group. Good wax for the sacred market. (Overall Rating: 73)

Fire On The Banjo — Coupling features some very listenable banjo and fiddle work on a lively instrumental in hoedown style. Coupling of a pop instrumental with a gospel side doesn't seem wise. (Overall Rating: 71)
8/31/1959 (BB) Starday 411 Old Country Baptizing — Sincere country chanting by Story on fervent c&w item. For traditional c&w jocks. (Rating: * * *)

Angel Band — Moving sacred tune is sung with feeling by Story and chorus. (Rating: * * *)
8/31/1959 (BB) Starday 449 Set Your House In Order — Carl Story, accompanied by a vocal group, handles this traditional country tune strategically. Worth country exposure. (Rating: * * *)

Old Gospel Ship — A rhythmic gospel effort is sung with excitement by the group as they explain how they want to take a trip on the old gospel ship. (Rating: * * *)
5/9/1960 (BB) Starday 492 Sweeter Than The Flowers — A weeper, done by Story in the traditional styl, with authentic instrumentation. For devotees of the real thing. (Rating: * * * *)

On The Radio (I Heard My Name) — An uplifting inspirational side. Lyric reflects the modern touch, but the picking and singing is in the traditional style strictly. (Rating: * * *)

Carl was a contributor to Country Song Roundup magazine in its Coast-to-Coast Roundup section of the magazine during 1954. He would report what was going on in North Carolina with country music.

Carl also wrote many tunes:

  • He's Waiting There
  • Hand In Hand
  • I Love The Hymns They Sang At Mother's Grave
  • I Heard My Mother Weeping
  • I'll Be A Friend
  • God Had A Son In Service (co-written with Lowell Blanchard)
  • I Overlooked An Orchid (co-written with Carl Smith and Shirley Lynn
  • I'm With A Crowd But So Alone (co-written with Ernest Tubb)

In the early 1990s, Carl assembled a new group of Rambling Mountaineers made up of young pickers that included Danny Arms on mandolin, Brett Dalton on banjo, and Jim Clark on bass (one of many with that name). One compact disc, Thank the Lord for Everything, came out in 1994 on the Minnesota-based Pure White Dove label. The last time I talked with Carl via phone, he was quite excited about it and rightly so. The next call a few months later came from former Rambling Mountaineer Harold Austin who informed me that Carl had just died on March 31, 1995.

When inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Honor in 2007, widow Helen Story accepted his plaque. Helen kept the band together for a year or so afterward. She soon married Lloyd Bell (sister of Bonnie Lou Moore) and not long after was widowed again. A chapter on Carl appeared in my book Folk Music in Overdrive: A Primer on Traditional Country and Bluegrass Music (Knoxville, 2018), by which time Bear Family in 2011 had released a four CD box set containing his entire pre-1960 output. In all a nice achievement for a nearly sixty-year career for a musician who never had a single hit on the Billboard charts.

Oma Loretta Story - Carl Story

Carl Story - Circa 1961
Carl Story - Circa 1971

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Country Song Roundup No. 15; December 1951; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • WNOX World Premiere Night; December 1954; Cowboys Songs; Issue No. 38; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Inside Story; December 1951; Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 15; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Folk Talent and Tunes; Johnny Sippel; August 12, 1950; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
  • Stars On The Horizon; March 1952; Issue No. 19; Cowboy Songs; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Bluegrass Legend Story Dies At Age 78; Dale Perry; April 2, 1995; The Greenville News; Greenville, SC
  • Carl Story, father of bluegrass gospel, dies; Dale Perry; April 2, 1995; The Greenville News; Greenville, SC

Printer Friendly Version

Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  21137 A Love And Wealth
  21137 B Lonesome Hearted Blues
  21205 A Someone To Lean On
  21205 B My Lord Keeps A Record
  21250 A Have You Come To Say Goodbye?
  21250 B Step It Up And Go
  21282 A On The Other Shore
  21282 B A Million Years In Glory
  21327 A Love Me Like You Used To Do
  21327 B It's A Lonesome Road
  21399 A I Love The Hymns They Sang At Mother's Grave
  21399 B The Reunion In Heaven
  21444 A What A Line
  21444 B You've Been Tom Cattin' Around
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  6068 A He's Waiting There
  6068 B I've Found A Hiding Place
  6082 A I Wanna Be A Railroad Man
  6082 B You're A Prisoner In My Heart
  6093 A I Heard My Mother Weeping
  6093 B Love Is A Game
  6106 A I Heard My Name On The Radio
  6106 B I'm Gonna Change My Way Of Living
  6128 A She's A Two Timin' Woman
  6128 B Who's That Man?
  6154 A My Lord Keeps A Record
  6154 B The Circle Was Broken
  6165 A I Watched You Walk Away
  6165 B Tennessee Border
  6199 A Heaven's My Home
  6199 B Keep On The Firing Line
  6220 A Heaven's Inside
  6220 B I'm Pressing On
  6229 A Why Don't You Haul Off And Get Religion?
  6229 B Will There Be A Traffic Light?
  6256 A New Jerusalem Way
  6256 B When He Reached Down His Hand For Me
  6284 A I Heard My Mother Weeping
  6284 B I Watched You Walk Away
  6404 A God Had A Son In Service
  6404 B God Saved My Soul
  70547 A They Have Gone Home
  70547 B Hollow Him
  70687 A By The Hands Of God
  70687 B Echoes From The Burning Bush
  70785 A Get On Board, Little Children
  70785 B God Put A Rainbow In The Clouds
  71088 A Light At The River
  71088 B Mocking Banjo
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  856 A I'll Be A Friend
  856 B I Heard My Mother Weeping
  893 A Sweeter Than The Flowers
  893 B I Heard My Name On The Radio
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  411 A Old Country Baptizing
  411 B Angel Band
  427 A Shout And Shine
  427 B A Beautiful City
  449 A Set Your House In Order
  449 B Old Gospel Ship
  465 A I Heart My Mother Weeping
  465 B I'll Be A Friend
  492 A On The Radio (I Heard My Name)
  492 B Sweeter Than The Flowers
  514 A Someone's Last Day
  514 B Ship That's Sailing Down
  531 A Hear Jerusalem Moan
  531 B Why Don't You Haul Off And Get Religion
  619 A Picture From Life's Other Side
  619 B Rank Stranger
  688 A The Old Country Preacher
  688 B Listen To Your Radio

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