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Bill Duncan
and the Harmony Mountain Boys
Born:  February 1, 1929
Died:  October 19, 2013

About The Artist

Bill Duncan was a central West Virginia bluegrass musician. He made some good recordings in 1961, worked briefly with Bill Monroe, and had a popular local TV program for a time. He also spent several years out of music. In the long run, Bill never managed to have much more than a regional image.

Duncan was born near Charleston and as a child fell under the musical influence of the WCHS Friday night radio program The Old Farm Hour which boasted such noted figures as Bill Cox, the Kessenger Brothers, Cap, Andy & Flip, and Frank Welling. A little later Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys at the Grand Ole Opry became his favorite.

Bill learned to play several instruments, but primarily settled on guitar. In 1954, he organized a band which included Denver Jackson on banjo, Warren Casto, Ed Smith on bass, and Mike Humphries on fiddle. Later members included fiddler Ralph "Joe" Meadows and Bill Pack. For three months in 1957, Duncan worked in the Bill Monroe band.

Back with his regular group in the Mountain State, Duncan added a new band member named Don Sowards (B: December 4, 1930 D: January 26, 2018). Not only a quality mandolinist, Sowards also proved to be a good songwriter.

Research found an interesting tidbit about Bill's time with Bill Monroe. It was quoted on Bluegrass Today by John Lawless in 2013. He was including a quote from Mr. Duncan from an interview by Dave Payne of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel from 2008.

" Bill Duncan on Bill Monroe on WSM: “He didn’t talk much and he was all business. When he was through with a song, he had in mind what he was going to do next. He’d hit the mandolin on that chord and if you turned your head, you didn’t know where he was going to be.

I remember on the Grand Ol’ Opry, Joe and Kenny were playing twin fiddles, on ‘Rose of Old Kentucky’; I knew he played it in B. But I was talking to George Jones and when I went to put the clamp (capo) on in (the key of) B, I put it on B flat. My microphone was high and the guitar was picking up something fierce. Bill recognized it right away and dropped to B-flat to match the guitar. When the fiddles came in, they stayed right in B.

After it was over, he jumped on them and ate them all up bad. I said ‘Bill, it was my fault. I’m the one who made the mistake.’ Bill said ‘I pay them for first-class musicians. When they heard that guitar in B-flat, they should have played the same.” "

Promo Ad - Harmony Mountain Boys - 1962
Album Cover - Bill Duncan - A Scene Near My Country Home - 1961

In 1960, the band signed with King Records and on April 4, 1961 had a quality session at King's Cincinnati studio. Since Humphries could not make the session, Buddy Spicher filled in on fiddle. Most of the songs appeared on the sixteen cut album A Scene Near My Country Home (King LP 825). Nine of the numbers were originals written by Don Sowards.

Caught between King's better-known bluegrass acts, the Stanley Brothers and Don Reno and Red Smiley, the album failed to attract much notice and quickly went out of print. In later years, however, it became a treasured collector's item.

The group had disbanded by 1962. Bill was out of music for a time, but became active again in the mid-1970s and recorded an 8-track tape. Sowards formed a band called the Laurel Mountain Boys which played as a part time group while Don worked as a technician for the C & O Railway. As bluegrass was again gaining popularity in 1974, the band became more active.

In early 1977, Don got back together with Duncan who had again become more active after being out of music. The band had some quality members such as fiddler Tommy Cordell and Don's son Mark. Bill and Don had problems getting along (not an uncommon circumstance among musicians) and by the end of the year had broken up again.

After that Bill played mostly locally but Don kept the Laurel Mountain Boys together for several years and recorded some albums through the 1980s. Thereafter he played with other groups until the aging process caught up with him.

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.
  • Bill Duncan Passes; John Lawless; October 19, 2013; bluegrasstoday.com

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  45-3007 A Country Home
  45-3007 B Just Being You
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1232 A Whirlin Twerlin Rock
  1232 B Valley Of Broken Hearts
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5991 A Hard Hearted One
  5991 B Onalee
  5992 A Sorrow And Sadness
  5992 B ?
Lovin' Country
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  628 A Time Won't Wait
  628 B Every Day With You

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