About The Artist
Don Stover ranks among the most significant bluegrass banjo pickers. Although best known for his work with the Lilly Brothers, he had other claims to importance in the field. These include leading his own White Oak Mountain Boys and playing with Bill Monroe's among others.
Stover grew up in smaller towns and coal camps in Raleigh County, West Virginia, and WJLS Beckley where folks like the Lilly Brothers, Speedy Krise, and Jimmy Dickens get their start. His preferred instrument was the banjo and when he first heard Earl Scruggs on radio about 1945, his "die was cast," so to speak." He played around the area with local groups, mostly the Coal River Boys on WOAY but not in a real professional sense until late 1952 when Everett Lilly came in search of his musical talents to play banjo in a group called the Confederate Mountaineers at WCOP in Boston, Massachusetts and at a club called the Hillbilly Ranch.
Stover recalls that bluegrass was new to New Englanders and it took a while for the band to achieve acceptance. Nonetheless, through radio and clubs like the Plaza and Mohawk in addition to Hillbilly Ranch they eventually built up a following. And when the folk music boom hit, they won acceptance as being authentic mountain musicians. Everett Lilly once recalled that sometimes people invited them to their homes just to listen to what to them were their odd Appalachian accents. Even when bluegrass gained popularity, instrumentals seemed more appealing than vocals which were good for banjo pickers, fiddlers and mandolinists.
In spite of his long tenure with the Lilly Brothers, there were times when Stover made efforts to seek greener pastures. The first came when he went to Washington D. C. in 1955 working with Buzz Busby and the Bayou Boys, recording one single with them. A second came when he did a stint with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. In the several months he played with Monroe, Don recorded eleven numbers on Decca in 1957, picking banjo and singing baritone on "In Despair."Apparently, Stover who was hired to pick banjo was less happy with being asked to do farm work.
Back in Boston Don worked on the recordings that the Lilly Brothers did for Event, although only four were released at the time (all later came out on a County album). The Lillys and Stover also did long play albums on Folkway and Prestige International. The long tenure at Hillbilly Ranch saw them leaving on occasion to play concerts elsewhere. The Ranch management did not always appreciate these actions, but rehired them in spite of threats to the contrary. Stover also made some recordings with Red Allen and played a few months with Bill Harrell in 1966.
After Everett Lilly moved back to West Virginia, Don organized his own band, the White Oak Mountain Boys. This band included such members at times as Dave Dillon on guitar, and either Bob Tidwell or Jack Tottle on mandolin, John Hall on fiddle, and Bob Denoncourt on bass. They did two albums on Rounder and another on Old Homestead. Keeping a band together proved challenging and the White Oak Mountain Boys dissolved after a few years. "Things in Life," the title song on the first Rounder album proved to be Don's moved popular vocal effort.
Don Stover also continued working with the Lilly Brothers during their limited career continuation. This consisted of a few concerts per year, mostly at Carlton Haney bluegrass festivals and Japanese tours beginning in 1973. The threesome did a sacred album for County in 1973, What Will I Leave Behind, later released on a Rebel compact disc. Their Japanese tour also produced three LPs on the Towa label of which a few copies "escaped" to the USA. Other live recordings from Hillbilly Ranch appeared in both the US and Japan.
Don spent the last decades of his life as what one might term a freelance musician. He worked at times, sometimes recording with such figures as Red Rector, Bill Clifton and Mac Martin. Clifton, Rector, and Stover generally worked as the First Generation. After Rector died in 1990, Jim Gaudreau became a First Generation member. After a long period of having no releases under his own name, Hank Edenborn's White Oak Records in 1989 released My Blue Ridge Memories credited to Don Stover & Friends. The friends were an all-star assembly consisting of Red Rector, Herb Applin, Art Stamper, Roger Williams, and Tom Gray.
Don had a brain surgery operation in 1990, but continued playing until 1995. Not long after his operation, White Oak released a cassette of Stover and Martin Live at the Moose Lodge (WO 103). In ill health and struggling financially in his last years, Don Stover died in 1996 and was buried in his native Raleigh County, West Virginia.
Credits & Sources
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