The Last Word On One Of The First Names In Bluegrass Music!
Over the years Bear Family Records has paid tribute to bluegrass music by releasing box sets from many of the music’s greatest exponents. The only major artist missing so far is Carl Story – and that’s now remedied with a new four cd box set covering his complete recording career from 1947-1959 plus several ultra-rare extras.
Bluegrass, Gospel and Mountain Music (1942-1959)
(Bear Family BCD 16839 DK)
He’s been named the “Father of Bluegrass Gospel”, although that definition was only won later in his career – the earliest recording days, as can be heard in the first discs of this set, stretched over wider country music realms.
Born in Lenoir, North Carolina, the son of an old time fiddler, Carl Story was influenced by such as Charlie Poole, Riley Puckett and acts that he heard on the newly launched Grand Ole Opry. It was around the time that he first heard the Opry that he first started playing the fiddle, later changing to guitar as his main instrument. He made his entrance into a music career after winning a talent contest in 1932 while working as a mechanic in the paper mill in Lynchburg. He became a member of J. E. Clark and the Lonesome Mountaineers for a brief period but, dissatisfied with the low pay, quit to form the Rambling Mountaineers which, by 1938, had become popular enough to turn professional.
Although he was approached by Art Satherley, and supposedly recorded for him, it is presumed that this was merely an audition as nothing was ever released. The first time that Story can be heard came from private recordings made in early 1942, released 31 years later by Puritan Records and now presented in this collection. These recordings, which included Suicide Blues, New San Antonio Rose, Dear Old Sunny South By The Sea and Great Speckled Bird, reveals the music that he was performing at the time, clearly closer to stringband than to bluegrass.
During the war years it was hard to keep a band together and, with the Rambling Mountaineers in disarray, Carl Story joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in 1943 for eight months before joining the Navy. It was during his time with Monroe that he started singing falsetto.
The Rambling Mountaineers were reformed in 1946 and besides working school houses, courthouses and theatres most evenings, began being heard regularly on WNOX in Knoxville – with a strong following built up on the station’s Saturday night “Tennessee Barn Dance” which also boasted the talents of such as Archie Campbell, Bill Carlisle, Chet Atkins, Don Gibson, Carl Smith and Flatt & Scruggs, several who later moved on to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
He finally landed a recording deal with the fledgling Mercury label in 1947. You’re A Prisoner In My Heart and I Wanna Be A Railroad Man were the first songs recorded on September 14, and gospel made its appearance on the second session of that day with I’ve Found A New Hiding Place and Story’s original He’s Waiting There. Although these first recordings never secured chart success (nor, for that matter, did any of the later recordings), Mercury kept him on its roster, laying on a further 13 sessions with producers Wally Fowler, Murray Nash and “D” Kilpatrick until he briefly departed for Columbia, and Don Law, during the period 1953-55 in the hope of finding a hit recording. He returned to Mercury in late 1955. Throughout the early part of this period he continued recording both secular and gospel music, mixing such titles as The Circle Was Broken, I’m Gonna Change My Way Of Living, Every Time Somebody Calls Your Name, You’ve Been Tom-Cattin’ Around, Faded Love and Tennessee Border with The Old Country Preacher, When The Pearly Gates Swing Open and Are You Walkin’ And Talkin’ With The Lord. Another religious title was the unusual God Had A Son In The Service, drawing a parallel between the Korean War and the Cross.
But as the secular songs failed to sell in appreciable quantities, Story – with his unearthly, keening falsetto and the accompaniment of Red Rector, Claude Boone, Bobby Thompson and others in his band – became more identified with gospel music. The records didn’t sell in huge quantities but they sold enough to cover the low cost of recording. But, nevertheless, times were hard and odds appeared against him. At the time when he was moving prominently into bluegrass, the music scene was into rock ‘n’ roll – and Nashville was answering the latter with the creation of the Nashville Sound, leaving little place for specialist music. Surveying the situation, he realized that television was the medium of the future and went to work for grocery store magnate, Cas Walker, the sponsor of several television shows. Meanwhile Mercury entered a short-lived (January 1957 – July 1958) deal with Starday Records, and Story’s two Mercury-Starday sessions, considered his best ever, led on to the release of his first LP “Gospel Quartet Favorites”. Then, when the label deal dissolved, Story was one of the first artists contracted to Don Pierce’s reincorporated Starday label – a home for the music that Nashville wanted to forget!
This four cd set not only includes all Carl Story’s commercially released tracks – many of them had disappeared along with 78s and 45s, and others not heard since the LP era – but also 25 hitherto unissued recordings alongside ultra-rare radio and home recordings from 1942. Accompanying the 134 tracks is a 112 page hardcover book, with detailed biography and recording information authored by Colin Escott and complimented by Neil Rosenberg and Eddie Stubbs’ comprehensive discography. It’s profusely illustrated with photographs, song book sheets, record labels and LP covers.
Once again Bear Family Records has preserved another slice of country music and given one more artist, hitherto neglected by the major record labels, the full star treatment! And in the case of Carl Story, if he didn’t actually invent quartet singing, he certainly brought it to new heights and was a lasting influence to others who followed in his wake. As bluegrass scholar Rosenberg notes: “He (Story) could, and did, sing any of the voices for which lead parts existed – bass, regular and high tenor. His ability to sing a wide range of lead parts within the quartet meant he could be featured performer on almost every track he recorded”.

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