God has called home His favorite mandolin player.
Marty Stuart, himself no small practitioner of that instrument himself, once issued
that tribute to Everett Lilly.
And now Lilly is gone, death coming quickly and quietly at his Clear Creek home Tuesday, closing
the book on a legend in the world of bluegrass, and leaving a legacy that isn’t likely to
be rivaled in future generations.
To son Daniel, however, who acquired the high, lonesome sound that symbolizes the music of
the mountains under his father’s tutelage, Lilly was more than just a pioneer.
“He was a wonderful father, a wonderful musician, a friend to everyone,” the son said Wednesday.
“He didn’t know a stranger. He would give his last to a stranger if he thought it was in need.
He really would.”
Beyond many a stage where he entertained, or the recording studios where his unique blend of
stringed instruments were laid down on tracks for posterity, the senior Lilly was a rugged
individualist who defied Father Time.
In fact, just before his passing, the 87-year-old Lilly was planning another outing with Daniel
on a favorite avocation — tooling about the rugged hills on a four-wheeler.
“Three days ago, Dad and I took a ride on four-wheeleers and were gone almost five
hours,” the son said.
“I just had bought one and it was being delivered Friday. Yesterday, sitting at his house, we
knew the four-wheeler was going to be here Friday. He told me, ‘Boy, we’re going to hit
the woods again. You’ll have a new one and mine’s like new.’”
Lilly underwent open heart surgery back in 2004, but the operation failed to slow the pace
of a man known as a rugged individualist.
“Two weeks to the day after he walked out of the hospital door, he was playing for
President Bush,” Daniel said, recalling Bush’s appearance in a campaign visit at the
Beckley-Raleigh Convention Center, marking the first time a sitting president appeared in Beckley.
“It was a show, another show that Dad had to go.”
Daniel learned the art of bluegrass at his father’s knee and spent fully two decades
fine-tuning his skills as a professional musician, touring with the band.
“He was my best friend,” Daniel said.
After laying plans for another all-terrain vehicle jaunt, Daniel said he went to get his
father a sub, but within 20 minutes, his mother telephoned with the grim news.
“He was gone before he ever left the chair,” he said. “That’s my firm belief.”
Even with the heart surgery, Lilly never curtailed his outdoor activities as an ATV enthusiast,
and didn’t regard the customary dietary limitations associated with congestive heart failure,
which often beset him, the son said.
His favorite lunch consisted of hot wings and chili.
Lilly’s death triggered a wave of eulogies on the popular social network Facebook, rivaling
the post-election posts on Tuesday’s primary election.
“I hate it,” reflected Charlie Garvin, a longtime bluegrass musician himself.
“He was a legend in our backyard, right here in West Virginia. I’ve actually got some
of his old albums. He was huge in Japan. It’s a pity. I hate to see him go.”
Lew Whitener, a former news photographer-turned-actor, shared his memories as did others.
“I remember playing a gig in Bristol,” Whitener said.
“We went to the mall and in the record store was a whole wall dedicated to the Lilly Brothers.
That’s when I realized the man I’d known for years was famous. He was fun, humble and
will always be one of my favorites.”
Just where bluegrass originated is difficult to say, except that its genesis was in the
Appalachian hill country.
Lilly was given a mandolin by his father and joined his brother Bea, forming the Lilly Brothers.
Bea died in 2005 at age 83 at a nursing home in Massachusetts. His name was actually an
initial that stood for his father, Burt, and for reasons unknown, came out as “Bea.”
Twice in his illustrious career, Everett put in time with Flatt & Scruggs, considered the inspiration
for bluegrass’ comeback for playing the theme in the 1967 movie, “Bonnie & Clyde.”
In recent years, the senior Lilly organized his own band, known as “The Lilly Mountaineers,” and
often performed at Tamarack, while touring other locales.
Stuart once helped a candidate for sheriff in Raleigh County back in 1976, performing then with
Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass, a spin-off of the original group that broke up when he
and Earl Scruggs had a falling out.
Once, when asked to size up Everett Lilly’s prowess and legendary status, Stuart quipped,
“I think when we all get to heaven, we’re going to find out that Everett Lilly is God’s favorite
mandolin player, and mine, too.”
A family spokesman said a wake is planned Saturday at Blue Ridge Funeral Home, with the funeral
to follow on Sunday. Full arrangements are incomplete.
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