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J. E. Mainer and His Mountaineers
North Carolina Music Hall of Fame (2012)
KMOX St. Louis, MO
WAPI Birmingham, AL
WBIG Greensboro, NC
WBT Charlotte, NC
WFBC Greenville, SC
WIS Columbia, SC
WPTF Raleigh, NC
WSOC Charlotte, NC
WSPA Spartansburg, SC
WWL New Orleans, NO

About The Group

J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers were essentially, a Carolina-Piedmont-Mountain string band, a 1930's younger version of what Charlie Poole's North Carolina Ramblers or Red Patterson's Piedmont Log Rollers had been in the previous decade. The difference being that Mainer and associates were younger and had a base on radio rather than being exclusively known through phonograph recordings. J. E. and Wade Mainer hailed from the mountain area not far from Weaverville who migrated to the Piedmont area town of Concord to work in the textile mills before embarking on a musical career.

Joseph Emmet Mainer left the family home at age twelve to work in a cotton mill, but eventually settled in Concord, North Carolina in 1922. At times, when he was back in Weaverville, he worked at a sawmill owned by his brother-in-law Roscoe Banks. Brother Wade, who was nine years younger, also worked at the sawmill until he decided to leave his fifty cents a day job and go to Concord and also work in the cotton mill that evidently paid a little better. It was there that they began to play together, J. E. on fiddle and Wade on banjo. They often played at local entertainments and square dances.

Promo Ad - Crazy Water Crystals - WWNC - J. E. Mainer's Crazy Mountaineers - WBT - Dick Hartman -WPTF - Tobacco Tags - Oct 1934
Promo Ad - Imperial Theatre - J. E. Mainard's (Mainer's) Crazy Mountaineers - Kings Mountain, NC - December 1936

Promo Ad - Lumberton High School Auditorium - Lumberton, NC - J. E. Mainer's Crazy Mountaineers - March 1935
Promo Ad - Bluebird Records - J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers - Musical Supply Co. - Kingsport, TN - April 1936

Fiddle contests (which usually included competition on other instruments and bands) were popular in the Piedmont Region and J. E. organized a group which did well in the contests. After some years at this, opportunity knocked in the form of radio programs sponsored by Crazy Water Crystals. This firm based in Mineral Wells, Texas made use of crystals that could be dissolved in water which made a mild laxative. There were rival firms such as Bluebonnet Crystals and Texas Crystals which also sponsored country acts, but Crazy Water dominated the Carolinas. Mainer's Mountaineers began working for them on radio about 1934 at the Crazy Barn Dance at WBT Charlotte. Eventually they worked daily programs as well and were sent to various radio locales to promote their sponsor's product.

Promo Ad - Halloween Party - Aycock School - Henderson, NC - Mainer's Crazy Mountaineers - October 1935 Another big plus for the Mountaineers came in August 1935 when they did their first recordings for RCA's Bluebird label in Atlanta. Their first release "Maple on the Hill" turned out to be one of the best sellers of the year. Actually, it was an old song, but with a new tune. Since that time almost all recordings of the number use the Mainer tune. The band at that time consisted of J. E. on fiddle, Wade on vocal and banjo, Claude "Zeke" Morris on vocal and guitar, and "Daddy" John Love on second guitar. On his solo vocals, Love sang numbers in a Jimmie Rodgers style. As a result of their first success, the Mountaineers became one of Bluebird's most recorded groups for the next six years even though they soon split into two groups. John Love went on first to record solo and then formed his own band the Dixie Reelers.

When J. E. did his second session on Valentine's Day in 1936, his band members consisted of Howard Bumgardner on guitar, Clarence Todd and Ollie Bunn who alternated on banjo and second fiddle. Ironically, Wade Mainer and Zeke Morris recorded as a duet that day by themselves.

However, in June 1936 Wade and Zeke Morris were back on vocals with J. E.'s group while other accompanists were Junior Misenheimer (banjo), Harold Christy and Beacham Blackweller (guitars). It would be the last time that both Mainers would record together. In all honesty, both Mainers had their cantankerous moments and sometimes also quarrels with both Hubert Fincher of Crazy Water Crystals and the musicians union.

Wade Mainer and Zeke Morris continued on their own until Zeke left to become one of the Morris Brothers; Wade formed his own band known as the Sons of the Mountaineers. J. E. also formed a new Mountaineers band consisting of himself on fiddle, DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins on banjo, George Morris (an older brother of Zeke) on guitar, and Leonard Stokes on mandolin. They worked mostly at WSOC Charlotte and then WIS Columbia, South Carolina.

J. E. Mainer and his Mountaineers - The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder - December 1945

Cover - Bluegrass Unlimited - November 1975 - J. E. Mainer - Wade Mainer

They did further sessions for Bluebird on August 5, 1937 and January 23, 1938. On the January 1938 sessions Jenkins was gone and although J. E. was leader there is doubt that he actually played or sang on them. A dispute either with the union or perhaps A & R man Eli Oberstein may have been the reason. At J. E.'s last Bluebird session on February 4, 1939 he had no band, but was accompanied by Clyde Moody and Jay Hugh Hall who were borrowed from brother Wade's band.

J. E. soon had another band comprised of Price Sanders (banjo), Mitchell Parker and Gurney Thomas (guitars) and a new base at WBIG Greensboro, North Carolina. After several months, J. E. left and a few days later, the station let the band go. Soon, however, J. E. called them back (possibly just Parker and Sanders) and they went to Texas and did programs for the "Border Station WENT Monterrey, Mexico. They made numerous transcriptions there, a few of which have been released on long play albums. This band also played for a time at KMOX in St. Louis.

During World War II, J. E. kept his musical activity largely confined to playing in the vicinity of his Concord home. But once the conflict ended, he signed the Delmore Brothers, Shelton Brothers, Rex Griffin with the new Cincinnati-based King label as did many other pre-war acts. Mainer's Mountaineers was now built around J. E. on fiddle, oldest son J. E. Jr or "Curley" (B: January 22, 1924 — D: January 13, 2020) on guitar, and Thedford Glenn Mainer(B: November 20, 1927 — D: 2018) on banjo. No obituary could be found for Thedford. Of twenty-four masters cut, nineteen were subsequently released, with "Run Mountain" being the best known. They played radio mostly in Johnson City, Tennessee with the aid of other musicians such as Jim Dillon, John Cook, and the Overcash Brothers, Floyd and Otis. As years went by, two Mainer daughters Carolyn (B: January 6, 1930 — D: October 24, 2000) and Mary (B: February 27, 1932 — D: November 18, 2012) also served as band members.

Promo Ad - Kuppers Record Dept - Miami, FL - Mainer's Mountaineers - May 1948
Promo Ad - Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance - Clay-Gentry Arena - Lexington, KY - Mainer's Mountaineers - Shelton Brothers - Wylie Morris - Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs - Esco Hankins - Chuck Fallis - The Wanderers - May 1950

Promo Ad - Guthrie Theatre - American Folk Music - Almeda Riddle - Mainer's Mountaineers - Kirk McGee - March 1965
Promo Ad - Smoky Mountain Jamboree - Big Burley Warehouse - Johnson City, TN - J. E. Mainer and his Famous Mountaineers - Charlie Bowman - Bob Christian - Unaka Bill and Eileen - Grandpapy Jones - March 1946

In 1960, sixteen numbers from the 1946 session were released as Good Ole Mountain Music (King LP 666). Still being at least semi-active they then recorded again in June 8, 1961 when they did another album for King.

By this time Glenn Mainer had become a full-fledged bluegrass banjo picker although J. E. was still an old-time fiddler.

After this the Mainers were about as active in recording if not more so than they had been in the late 1930's. J. E with various support musicians, including at times Curley and Glenn, Earl and Jerry Cheek, and later Morris Herbert, cut albums for Arhoolie, Blue Jay, Old Homestead (issued posthumously), and especially Rural Rhythm where he did at least thirteen albums of about 20 songs each (one being a bluegrass album with Red Smiley's Blue Grass Cut-Ups). After his death, the company mixed the songs from various other albums up to a total of 20 volumes.

Marvin Eury wrote an article about J. E. Mainer in 1967 in a Kannapolis, NC newspaper. He begins by telling readers that Mainer was "born in a one-room log cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He wauit school before he was out of the "second reader" but he made his mark in country music and he performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. ... has played on 190 radio stations, made personal appearance in nearly every southern state, rubbed wlbows with the greats and near-greats of country and western music and still holds the record for the number of letters from one 15-minute program at radio station WIS in Columbia, SC."

Mr. Eury wrote of Mainer after he had received an award from the Mooresville Lions Club, a trophy for his contributions to country music over the past half century. It read, "Awarded to J. E. Mainer. Given for upholding country music."

We further learn that J. E. learned to read by reading the signs along the highways as he travelled to personal appearances. He never had a music lesson in his life. He learned to play the banjo and fiddle. But on top of that, he also built those instruments in his '...combination office - workshop - museum' at his home near Concord, NC. Mr. Eury noted that Mainer "...looked like a walking advertisement for his old sponsor, the producers of "Peruni" and "Color Back." His face is unwrinkled and his hair is still the same color at it was when he used to open his popular radio shows with the song, "How Do You Do Everybody? How Do You Do?"

Mainer told Mr. Eury that the Mainer cabin was situated between two mountains that were so steep, the sun only shone on the home six hours a day. Their nearest neighbor was even miles away. To get away on occasion, Mainer's dad built a sled to help them navigate the steep slopes.

The family moved to Union, SC where J.E's brother, Wade, was born. His father then bought a home in Weaversville. J.E. quit school and went to work in a cotton mill to help the family pay for their new home. Mr. Eury noted that by the time J. E. was 12, he "...already had the traveling dust in his shoes and hopped a freight train to Knoxville, TN where he developed his love for string music.

He learned to play the banjo when he was just nine, but in his heart, he wanted a fiddle. How he got that fiddle, well, let's let Mr. Eury and J. E. tell that story:

"I got me a job in Knoxville at the Brook Side Cotton Mill. One Saturday I went to a cafe where all the boys hung out. There was an old man leaning up against a telegraph pole and he was playing a fiddle. I'll never forget the tune he was playing. It was "The Drunkard's Hiccough."

When he got done playing, he started to walk across the railroad tracks and the Number Nine hit him and killed him. HIs fiddle was busted up pretty bad and it fell over in the grass and nobody noticed it.

I went back to the obarding house and told the others about it but nobody knew who the old man was. So next morning I went down there and found the fiddle. I kept it and had it fixed up and I learned to play it."

Mainer's sister married Roscoe Banks, who was from the mountains and played the fiddle. Mainer said "He played it left-handed but he sure could play it." The two of them began playing square dances with Wade joining them occasionally. They started to make a name for themselves.

Mainer got the itch to roam again; hopped a train to Salisbury in hopes of finding a job, but to no avail. He then walked to Concord; he got a job at Cannon Mill Plant 6. While he was 'settled down' there, he met and married Sadie McDaniel. While at the mill, he still continued to play the fiddle. Wade came to live with them. The two formed a group with John Love of Concord and Zeke Morris of Old Fort. They would go to fiddlers' conventions and won every ribbon one could think of.

They had gotten the attention of the Crazy Water Crystal Company; they wanted Mainer's group for a program over WBT in Charlotte. Mainer said he would take it, but he wanted to talk with Lloyd C. Harmon, who was the superintendent at Cannon Mill 6. He wanted to know if his job would still be there if he couldn't make it as a musician.

J. W. Fincher, then president of Crazy Water Crystal Co., showed faith in Mainer and his group. They were being heard at 6:15am every day and again at 12:15pm. They did personal appearances every night, riding in an old 1936 model Ford. They would play just about anywhere, school houses, church halls and the like. Often time they would get back the next morning just in time before their show went on the air. They were on the air at WBT for about four years. Then their journey took them to WPTF in Raleigh where after six years, they went to WSPA in Spartansburg and then on to WIS in Columbia.

It was while they were at WIS that they set a record. They got 11, 421 pieces of mail from one 15-minute program. As of 1967, that record still stood. Around that time, his group included George Morris of Old Fort, Leonard Stokes of Richfield and Snuffy Jenkins of Rutherfordton.

Around this time, Benson - Doll, the sponsors of Color Back signed J. E. to a contract; that sent him to San Antonio, TX (Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmie also did transcriptions there) where the transcriptions they made were heard all of the world.

J. E. told Mr. Eury that "...didn't makemushc when he started in the entertainment world but had managed to buy anything he wants and paid for it with my fiddle."

In his workshop, he was making fiddles out of imported German wood. The prices for those fiddles (in 1967) ranged from $25 to $150.

In February of 1971, J. E. Mainer and his Mountaineers made an appearance at Macbride Auditorium at Iowa University. It was sponsored by Friends of Old Time Music and the University of Iowa School of Letters. Just prior to their appearance in Iowa, the group will have appeared at the University of Chicago's Folk Festival. An article cites from the book "Country Music U.S.A.":

"Performing with great gusto and abandon characterized by whoops and hollers, they evoke a tangy backwoods atmospher as they range from raucous novelty tunes to southern gospel songs. For the studen of folk music the Mainer organization's extensive traditional repertory and perpetuaion of old-time country fiddling marks them as one of the most important groups in country music history."

He recalled some of the fiddlers he faced in the past during those fiddling conventions or contests. He told Page Connell in 1967, "Curly Fox is the only fiddler I ever dreaded — and, oh yeah, Gid Tanner and his Skillet Likkers."

Then he spoke of the times passing. "A lot of the old fiddlin' players are passing out. The young ones just ain't learning. They have got this rock 'n' roll now. The old records are worn out — that's why I got this new album out now."

In addition, many of his 1930's recordings were reissued on various labels for the collector market. They also did personal appearances as far west as the Berkeley Folk Festival, northward to the WWVA Jamboree, and bluegrass festivals throughout the Upper South. It was while preparing to leave Concord for a festival in Culpepper, Virginia in June 1971 that he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Carlton Haney held his 7th Annual Blue Grass Music Festival in Camp Springs, NC in September 1971. It started off with a tribute to J. E. Mainer who had passed away earlier in the year. About 10,000 folks were expected to attend the three day festival. Other performers were to be: Earl Scruggs and his sons; the Osborne Brothers; Jimmy Martin; Mac Wiseman; Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and also Roy Acuff and his Smokey Mountain Boys.

J. E. Mainer and his Mountaineers - Bluebird B-8400-B - Drunkard's Hiccouhgs - February 4, 1939

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.
  • For 50 Years, He Fiddle Around; Page Connell; April 19, 1967; The Charlotte Observer; Charlotte, NC
  • Mountain Music Man; Marvin Eury; April 23, 1967; The Daily Independent; Kannapolis, NC
  • Old time Mountain Music Concert To Be Given At UI; January 27, 1971; Iowa City Press Citizen; Iowa City, IA
  • Fiddler J. E. Mainer Dies At 72; June 16, 1971; The Macon Telegraph; Macon, GA
  • Camp Springs Hosts Blue Grass Festival; September 3, 1971; News and Record; Greensboro, NC

Read More About The Group

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  8887 A He Gave His Life
  8887 B Precious Jewel
  8990 B Old Reuben
  B-6065 A Maple On The Hill
  B-6065 B Take Me In The Lifeboat
  B-6068 A Ship Sailing Now
  B-6068 B This World Is Not My Home
  B-6090 A Broken-Hearted Blues
  B-6090 B Greenback Dollar
  B-6104 A Let Her Go God Bless Her
  B-6104 B New Curly Headed Baby
  B-6160 A Lights In The Valley
  B-6160 B City On The Hill
  B-6194 A Searching For A Pair Of Blue Eyes
  B-6194 B Write A Letter To Mother
  B-6222 A The Longest Train
  B-6222 B Ride On, God's Children (w/Smith's Sacred Singers)
  B-6290 A One To Love Me
  B-6290 B Fatal Wreck Of the Bus
  B-6324 A Don't Cause Mother's Hair To Turn Grey
  B-6324 B Satisfied
  B-6385 A I Am Walking In The Light
  B-6385 B When I Reach My Home Eternal
  B-6424 A New Lost Train Blues
  B-6424 B Number 111
  B-6440 A Behind The Parlor Door
  B-6440 B Goin' Back West In The Fall
  B-6479 A Take Me Home To The Swseet Sunny South
  B-6479 B The Old And Faded Picture
  B-6539 A Goin' Down The River Of Jordan
  B-6539 B Got A Home In That Rock
  B-6584 A Watermelon On The Vine
  B-6584 B John's Old Grey Mule
  B-6629 A On A Cold Winter Night
  B-6629 B John Henry Was A Little Boy
  B-6738 A Won't Be Worried Long (By J. E. Mainer Mtneers))
  B-6738 B Do You Want To See Mother Again (By Dixie Reelers)
  B-6792 A Seven And A Half
  B-6792 B Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls?
  B-7151 A We Can't Be Darlings Any More
  B-7151 B Answer to Greenback Dollar
  B-7222 A Tell Mother I'll Meet Her
  B-7222 B In A Little Village Churchyard
  B-7289 A Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind
  B-7289 B Kiss Me Cindy
  B-7412 A Lamp Lighting Time In Heaven
  B-7412 B I'm Living The Right Life Now
  B-7471 A Oh Why Did I Ever Get Married
  B-7471 B If I Lose, Let Me Lose
  B-7659 A I Once Loved A Young Man
  B-7659 B Somebody Cares
  B-7845 A Back To Johnson City (w/Wade Mainer and Sons Of The Mountaineers)
  B-7845 B Mitchell Blues (w/Wade Mainer and Sons Of the Mountaineers)
  B-7956 A Great Reaping Day (w/Dixie Reelers)
  B-7956 B I Shall Not Be Moved (w/Dixie Reelers)
  B-8187 A Concord Rag
  B-8187 B Country Blues
  B-8400 A Drunkard's Hiccoughs
  B-8400 B The Night She Cried In My Beer (By Hal Davis & Orch)
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  538 A What'll I Do With The Baby
  538 B The Yodelin' Mountaineer
  543 A Mother's Only Sleeping
  543 B Workin' On A Buildin'
  5522 A JW's Harp
  5522 B Get Away Old Man, Get Away
  622 A Big Ball In Texas
  622 B Johnson County Blues
  661 A Gathering Flowers From The Hillside
  661 B Lonely Tomb
  819 B Shoot The Turkey Buzzard
Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4710 A Where The Red Red Roses Grow
  4710 B Maple On The Hill Pt.2
  4711 A City On The Hill
  4711 B Lights In The Valley
  4712 A Don't Cause Mother's Hair To Turn Grey
  4712 B Satisfied
  4713 A Bring Me A Leaf From The Sea
  4713 B Brown Eyes
  4714 A This World Is Not My Home
  4714 B Ship's Sailing Now
  4715 B Broken Hearted Blues
  4716 A Write A Letter To Mother
  4716 B Searching For A Pair Of Blue Eyes
  4717 A Fatal Wreck Of The Bus
  4717 B One To Love Me
  4718 A Mother Came To Get Her Boy Back From Jail
  4718 B Just As The Sun Went Down
  4719 A Going To Georgia
  4719 B Come Back To Your Dobie Shack
  7001 A I Am Walking In The Light
  7001 B When I Reach My Home Eternal
  7002 A Behind The Parlor Door
  7002 B Goin' Back West In The Fall
  7003 A New Lost Train Blues
  7003 B Number 111
  7004 A Going Down The River Of Jordan
  7004 B I've Got A Home In The Rock
  7005 A The Longest Train
  7006 A Watermelon On The Vine
  7006 B Johnson's Old Grey Mule
  7007 B Walk That Lonesome Valley
  7008 A On A Cold Winter Night
  7008 B John Henry Was A Little Boy
  7009 A Seven And A Half
  7009 B I Won't Be Worried Long
  7091 A Cowboy's Pony In Heaven
  7091 B They Said My Lord Was A Devil
  7092 A Won't Somebody Pal With Me?
  7092 B Been Foolin' Me, Baby
  7127 A Little Rosebuds
  7127 B Little Birdie
  7128 A Short Life And It's Troubles
  7128 B In The Land Beyond The Blue
  7129 A Train Carry My Gal Back Home
  7129 B I've Always Been A Rambler
  7130 A I'm Starting Life Anew With You
  7130 B A Change All Around
  7131 A Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?
  7131 B Hop Along Peter
  7132 A I'll Be A Friend Of Jesus
  7132 B Just One Way To The Pearly Gates
  7133 A Dear Daddy, You're Gone
  7133 B I Miss My Mother And Daddy
  7134 A What Would You Give In Exchange
  7134 B Sleep On, Departed On
  7300 A We Can't Be Darlings Any More
  7300 B Tell Mother I'll Meet Her
  7301 A Answer To Greenback Dollar
  7301 B In A Little Village Churchyard
  7302 A Swing The Door Of Your Heart Open Wide
  7302 B Carry Your Cross With A Smile
  7303 A There's A Green Hill Far Away
  7303 B Floating Down The Stream Of Time
  7304 A You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone
  7304 B Don't Go Out
  7305 A Kiss Me Cindy
  7305 B Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind
  7307 B Answer To Two Little Rosebuds
  7452 A I'm Living The Right Life Now
  7452 B Lamp Lighting Time In Heaven
  7453 A When The Light's Gone Out In Your Soul
  7453 B Your Best Friend Is Always Near
  7454 A Just Over In The Glory Land
  7454 B I'm In The Glory Land Way
  7455 A Somebody Cares
  7455 B Great Reaping Day
  7456 A I Once Loved A Young Man
  7456 B If I Lose Let Me Lose
  7457 A Back To Johnson City
  7457 B Oh Why Did I Ever Get Married
  7480 A Lonely Tomb
  7480 B All My Friends
  7481 A Don't Get Too Deep In Love
  7481 B Pale Moonlight
  7482 A Don't Leave Me Alone
  7482 B I Won't Be Worried
  7483 A Where Romance Calls
  7483 B Since I Met My Mother-In-Law
  7484 A Mitchell Blues
  7484 B Another Alabama Camp Meeting
  7559 A She Is Spreading Her Wings For A Journey
  7559 B Life's Evenin' Sun
  7560 A Farther Along
  7560 B Home In The Sky
  7561 A Dear Loving Mother And Dad
  7561 B If I Had Listened To Mother
  7562 A That Kind
  7562 B Can't Tell About These Women
  7564 B The Same Old You And Me
  7565 B You're Awfully Mean To Me
  7880 A Concord Rag
  7880 B I'm A Poor Pilgrim
  7881 A Country Blues
  7881 B Drunkard's Hiccups
  7882 A Sparkling Blue Eyes
  7882 B We Will Miss Him
  7883 A I Left My Home In The Mountains
  7883 B I Met Her At A Ball One Night

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