That’s because Ralph and his brother Carter, who recorded for two decades under the name the Stanley Brothers (and who are also members of the Country Music Hall of Fame), were the first group to play and record music in the style of Monroe. They turned what Monroe and his band (the Blue Grass Boys) were doing into something with a far greater reach, and when the Stanley Brothers cut their initial sides in 1946, bluegrass took its first steps in becoming a genre of its own.
“I liked his singing, I liked his voice, and I wanted to sing the style he was singing,” Stanley tells Radio.com during a recent phone interview. “I put the old Stanley sound to it and finished it up.”
After that, the world of bluegrass exploded, and as it grew, Monroe and the Stanleys remained at the forefront. After Carter died in 1966, Ralph carried on alone, fronting his band the Clinch Mountain Boys, cutting countless more songs and touring seemingly nonstop.
Today Ralph Stanley is 87 years old, and still he hasn’t stopped. In fact, earlier this month Ralph released a brand-new album, Man of Constant Sorrow.
Along with Ralph, his grandson Nathan Stanley and the rest of the Clinch Mountain Boys, the album features a range of high-profile special guests, including Dierks Bentley, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack, Old Crow Medicine Show, Ricky Skaggs and Gillian Welch.
The album is available exclusively at Cracker Barrel stores and online.
It was produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, and as Lauderdale explained it to Radio.com, the theme of the album was to bring together “a bunch of artists, diverse backgrounds, that have one thing in common: they love Ralph Stanley.” For so many artists across numerous genres, “to have an opportunity to sing and record with him is a life and career highlight,” Lauderdale says. “So it’s a really a celebration of Ralph Stanley.”
Lauderdale explains that Elvis Costello already had the idea for “Red Wicked Wine,” one of Stanley’s lesser-known songs. “I was out on tour with [Costello] several years ago, and he brought the song up to me for us to sing during a show. I was impressed he knew that more obscure song.”
And Robert Plant’s contribution, “Two Coats,” is one of the album’s most distinct.