Take a spin with Golden Graham's choice album reviews

King & Starday Bluegrass Box-Set CoverThe Best Of King and Starday Bluegrass


During the 1950's the music business saw two independent record labels, King Records and just a few years later Starday Records taking a major step in the recording of bluegrass groups. Affectionately known as the Father Of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys were the primary driving force for the popularisation of bluegrass and the naming of this new genre of music around the mid-40's. Bluegrass with its playing of stringed instruments and high-lonesome singing soon rode the crest of country photos of King Studio and Syd Nathan music's post-war wave.

Cincinnati businessman Sydney Nathan founded King Records in 1943, initially recording country artists including The Delmore Brothers and later Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. From the mid-40's and 1950's the label drew bluegrass groups and artists of the calibre of J.E. Mainer (listen to their bluegrass variation of the western swing classic "Big Balls In Cow Town"), Jimmy Martin & Bob Osborne, plus Don Reno and Red Smiley who made significant contributions over a twelve-year period to the King roster. In the 1950's King Records was reputed to be J.E, Mainerthe sixth largest label in the U.S.A. During the 1960's King Records made massive sales from the records of the rhythm and blues field with the likes of James Brown, that saw Nathan's sure-fire induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame.

Starday was formed in Texas in 1952 and later moved to Nashville to be closer to the music scene when Don Pierce became involved with the company. George Jones was one of their earliest artists and Starday entered into a partnership deal with Mercury Records who distributed product for Starday artists. Around 1957 numerous bluegrass artists began appearing on the Starday label. Just a few of the legendary  photo of Starday Studio and DonPiercebluegrass artists to be found on the label were Jim Eanes, the Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Bill Clifton, The Stoneman Family and The Country Gentlemen.

In the 1960's Starday and King merged drawing a new generation of bluegrass musicians and an offshoot that drew the handle…Newgrass. These recording included bands such as II Generation, J.D. Crowe and New Grass Revival, as well as Larry Sparks being included in the label's catalogue.

After Don Pierce sold Starday/King the company changed hands several times. Around 1974 it was virtually out of business when founder of Gusto Records, Moe LytleMoe Lytle purchased the collection of Starday/King masters, and is now believed to maintain the largest independently owned collection of record masters. Not long after purchasing Starday/King, Gusto started to reissue much of the newly acquired collection of vintage bluegrass music. Packaging the recordings in such a way as to appeal to the record buyer, the endeavour paid off and the magnificent Starday/King collected works of great old bluegrass music has remained available to the record buying public over theReno & Smiley past 30 years.

The Best Of King and Starday Bluegrass celebrates some of the best recordings from the vaults of these two record labels. It offers a four CD box-set that features 39 groups/artists with 100 tracks in all, plus a 32 page book containing an abundance of detailed information about the artists and backed up by rare photos. Discs 1 and 2 underline the King catalogue, while Discs 3 and 4 are devoted to Starday's recordings. The Best Of King and Starday Bluegrass is a piece of Bluegrass history that accentuates the magnificent legacy that a famed "A" group of musicians have left for future generations of fans. Besides the artists already mentioned, you can hear the fine vocals of songwriter Mac O'Dell helped out by Don Reno on tenor vocals in the course of four gospel numbers. Reno is also featured along with Red Smiley on lead vocals throughout four tracks with Tommy Tommy Magness and His Tennessee Buddies Magness and His Tennessee Buddies recorded in March 1951. The group broke up a short time after these recording were made and Reno and Smiley went on to form their own legendary partnership untill 1964 when Smiley's old war wounds forced him to give up travelling. As a banjoist Reno was surpassed by no other banjo player (including Earl Scruggs) and is credited as one of the first bluegrass musicians to play the guitar as a lead instrument in flat-pickin' style. Don Reno went on to partner guitarist/vocalist Bill Harrell (before continuing to play with Smiley untill 1972). We find three of their 1967 recordings here: "Big Train", Bill Harrell and Don Reno"Just A Phone Call Will Do" and "Welcome Home", while Bill is also featured in his own right on a further two tracks.

Carter Stanley passed away on 1 December 1966 leaving his brother Ralph undecided as to his own future in music. Due to the extensive support of the music fans, Ralph Stanley approached Syd Nathan with regards to making solo recordings. Ralph Stanley recorded three solo projects for King. Four numbers from those projects are featured here including "I Only Exist" written by Ralph's wife Jimmi, while the instrumental "Coosey" showcases Ralph's fine banjo work. Now in his late 70's Ralph Stanley still draws the crowdRalph and Carter Stanley in King studio as we saw in the U.K. during his appearances here over the past few years and the Grammy that Stanley received for "Oh Death" featured on the soundtrack of the highly popular movie O Brother Where Art Thou.

Leon Jackson has the distinction of writing "Love Please Come Home", one of the most popular hits in bluegrass music that he wrote at the age of 17. The song is based on a true event when his friend's wife left him and their small child… heartbroken he called on Leon, Stanley Brothersinspiring him to write the song. Bill Duncan can also be heard on this collection, while Red Allen, the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Bill Clifton as well as Vern & Ray and the Carroll County Boys are all here for the pickin'!!!

The Best Of King and Starday Bluegrass is an extensive anthology for the discerning music fan. The musicianship of the artists contained here doesn't get any better, while the production and sound quality is tip-top. This well-favoured treasure is a bonanza of hidden gems that have been polished and left to sparkle in the sunlight!