About The Artist
Joe Stuart probably ranks as the most versatile sideman in the history of bluegrass music, demonstrating recording proficiency on all of the standard instruments. To illustrate the point, over a 28-year period he recorded often with Bill Monroe and played (one instrument at a time) banjo, fiddle, bass, or guitar. His main instrument was probably mandolin which he played with Monroe when the latter had a broken collarbone, but switched to banjo on records when his boss resumed picking. In addition to his work with the Blue Grass Boys, Stuart spent notable stints with the Bailey Brothers, Carl Sauceman, Rual Yarbrough's Dixiemen, and the Sullivan Family. Monroe when the latter had a broken collarbone, but switched to banjo on records when his boss resumed picking. In addition to his work with the Blue Grass Boys, Stuart spent notable stints with the Bailey Brothers, Carl Sauceman, Rual Yarbrough's Dixiemen, and the Sullivan Family. In his later years, Joe also did two long play albums under his own name.
He served in the U. S. Army during World War II. When he returned after the war to East Tennessee, he performed live and on the radio with such acts as the Baily Brothers, the Sauceman Brothers and a very young Obsborne Brothers (Sonny and Bobby).
Stuart spent his early years with various groups on Knoxville radio, mostly with the Bailey Brothers, the Saucemans or perhaps others under the sponsorship of Cas Walker. He worked with the Sauceman Brothers at WCYB Bristol. Joe also spent a brief time with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs playing bass.
On August 18, 1955, he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, initially filling in on mandolin for the injured Monroe who still sang and led the band. As soon as Bill recovered, Joe shifted to banjo and did one Decca session with him that year and three more in 1957, leaving the band by the end of the year.
Back with the band in 1962, he played regularly on the Opry and recorded more sessions with the Blue Grass Boys in 1962; although he had left Bill's group on November 1, 1963, he continued recording with them all through 1964. In June 1970 he came back again and remained through 1973. Bill always greatly appreciated Joe as a sideman because when he made long trips without a full band he could always get what was needed to do a full show even if those pick-up musicians who appeared with him on stage were not always familiar with what was needed. Stuart left as a regular late in 1973.
If he was available, he filled in for a show at the Opry, on the road, or on a recording session, doing his final one with Monroe on April 1, 1983. In this period, he often worked regularly with either the high quality bluegrass gospel group, the Alabama-based Sullivan Family, or Rual Yarbrough and the Dixiemen, recording with both.
At some point in his life, it was said that Joe Stuart took up stock car racing. But after winning at
Talladega, his victory was "disqualified by crooked officials" and he quit the sport.
Career sidemen do not often get a chance to record on their own, but by the mid-1970s many were doing so including Joe Stuart. The first came when he was working with the Dixiemen who backed him on his long-play album Sitting on Top of the World (Atteiram LP 1514). In 1977, he cut a duet album with his old boss Carl Sauceman, Together Again (Atteiram LP 1570). Carl once called Stuart "the greatest mandolin player there was" and also credited him with teaching Earl Scruggs the finger picking guitar technique that Scruggs used so effectively on many of the Foggy Mountain Boys' sacred recordings. Sometime after that Joe recorded the gospel album Peace in the Valley (Atteiram LP 1622).
In his later years, Joe also did two long play albums under his own name.
In the mid-1980s, Stuart began fighting a battle with cancer. While he showed some improvement by 1987, he ultimately lost the fight on September 13. At some point, he extracted a promise from Bill Monroe to sing all 25 verses of "John Henry" at his funeral. Bill kept his promise. Thus, Joe became one of the few people to have a complete rendition of John Henry sung at his funeral.
His obituary in The Tennessean by Thomas Goldsmith related how he connected with people he encountered during his time in Nashville. John Hartford recalled Joe's kindness. "The very first time I ever came to Nashville I snuck around and went backstage at the Grand Ole Opry and the first person I met was Joe Stuart. He took me under his wing — wouldn't let the guard throw me out — and I've kept up with him ever since."
He was survived by wife Kathy and daughters Jenny Lynn and Brendaline. He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn near Madison, Tennessee.
Credits & Sources
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