About The Artist
Bill Napier is probably best known for his work in the 1960's as the duet partner of Charlie Moore in the bluegrass band Dixie Partners. But he also played some outstanding mandolin and lead guitar on some of the Stanley Brothers Mercury, Starday, and early King recordings. This paved the way for the acoustical lead guitar becoming more accepted as a lead instrument in bluegrass circles.
Napier was a native of Wise County, Virginia and grew up near the town of Grundy as one of eleven children, often listening to WCYB Bristol. His early favorites were the Stanley Brothers and Charlie Monroe. The Stanley's mandolin picker Pee Wee Lambert made that eight-stringed instrument his earliest preference.
Like many other Appalachian youth, he succumbed to the lure of better-paying work in the North, finding a job in Detroit. He bought a good mandolin and found other musicians of like interest. He especially liked and often worked with the part-time local favorites of West Virginia origin, Curly Dan and Wilma Ann [Holcomb] with whom he recorded on the Fortune label. Aspiring to a sideman's job, he unsuccessfully auditioned with the Stanley Brothers, but after practicing a bit more, he became a full-fledged Clinch Mountain Boy on his second try in 1957. His first recording with them that November was his original mandolin tune "Daybreak in Dixie." His first lead guitar work came in late 1959 and early 1960 via Starday and King.
Soon after the February 1960 Starday session, Bill left the Stanley's to become a partner with Charlie Moore in the Dixie Partners. Charlie had been active on TV in Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina and recorded some material on Starday prior to Bill joining with him. Together they made their first session later that year. They cut ten songs but only two were released, "Big Daddy of the Blues" and "The Story of Love," on the American label. Some months later, the entire group went to WHJG in Panama City, Florida where they did six live TV shows daily, some of which were taped and broadcast over stations in Orlando and Pensacola. Although the program's sponsor paid them a salary, the Dixie Partner's most lucrative personals came from Pensacola as most of the Panama City signal went over the Gulf of Mexico and a swamp.
During the Panama City phase of their career, Bill and Charlie also began a six-year connection with King Records that would ultimately result in nine long play albums and numerous singles. Their first album Folk and Hill (LP 828) contained their best-known number "Truck Driver's Queen." Some were theme albums such as one of patriotic and war songs Country Music Goes to Vietnam (LP 982) and trucker numbers Songs Truck Driver's Love (LP 936). There were also gospel and instrumental efforts. Eventually they left Florida and returned to Spartanburg. In all, they cut 108 numbers on King.
Despite his well-known prowess on mandolin, Bill actually divided his time on either lead guitar or banjo as the band otherwise had none, but badly needed a regular on the five string. At times they had adequate mandolin pickers such as Curly Lambert and Jimmy Williams, and Henry Dockery on bass fiddle. For a time they had such fiddlers as Ralph Mayo, Jimmy Lunceford, and Benny Williams. In the studios, they could rely on Ohio-based pickers such as Paul (Moon) Mullins and Jim McCall, but they found retaining band members a challenge.
The duo split in 1968 and Charlie Moore continued on until his death in 1979 although the two did a reunion album in the mid-seventies. Bill returned to Michigan and was semi-active, recorded a bit with Michigan groups but never really got back in music full time. He did an album for Old Homestead in 1984, Hillbilly Fever (OH 80059) which was divided between old standards and new originals. He passed away several months after his 64th birthday.
His obituary mentioned that he had spent the last decade of his life participating in a music ministry with his wife, Karla. They had moved to Tennessee a few years before his death from cancer.
Credits & Sources
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