A Country Genius

Another reading update.

6. Man of Constant Sorrow by Dr. Ralph Stanley.

A good friend of mine once had a dream in which I was eating a sausage biscuit and I was very proud to show him that the wrapper proclaimed it to be a “Country Genius Sausage Biscuit”. Needless to say, this became an overnight catch phrase. If there’s anybody who really is a country genius, it would have to be Dr. Ralph Stanley.

Dr. Ralph is in his mid-80s, and is still the reigning king of clawhammer banjo, as well as “what they call” bluegrass music (his words, not mine, as he doesn’t like the name). Dr. Ralph was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lincoln Memorial University in the 1970s, and apparently liked it so much that he insists on being called Dr. Ralph.

Anyway, in 2009, he finally got around to sitting down and writing his life story. From talking about milking cows to telling stories about a flatulent fiddle player (who cut, as Dr. Ralph calls it, “a real greaser”, which thoroughly disgusted a record company executive), this is about as genuine as it gets.

Dr. Ralph’s country genius, as a musician, as a writer, and just as a person stems from the fact that he is exactly who he is. There is no pretense, there is no dressing up the truth, there is only a great American life. So read his book. And go see him. When I told him I was born only a few miles down the road in southwest Virginia from his old hometown, he looked at me in wonder, and posed with me for a photo which is one of my all time favorites. And I will post it on here, if I ever remember to. He also sang “Oh Death”, just like he did in O Brother Where Art Thou, and put chill bumps on everybody. That’s a country genius, if I do say so myself.

Books: 6/50
Pages: 2,250/20,000

(another book is almost finished, which means another post…)

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5 Responses to “A Country Genius”

  1. d_ustin Says:

    My favorite Dr Ralph story: after my initial return to LMU, during one of the first Stanley Scholarship Benefit concerts, I was down in the Turner room which served as the mingling/food area. One of the girls I worked with was sent down to interview the man for which all the hubbub was dedicated, yet she said she could not find Dr. Stanley. When I pointed him out she replies, “Oh I thought was somebody’s grandmother.”
    That is all.

  2. d_ustin Says:

    See if you can find where I randomly left out the word, “that.” There is no prize for doing so. I sometimes like to type poorly.

  3. anitra Says:

    I seriously appreciated reading this article, keep posting more like it.

  4. eljoe1235 Says:

    That’s terrible. I hope you then sent her to interview Manute Bol.

  5. Michael Lynch Says:

    Dustin speaks falsehood! I’m the one who thought Ralph Stanley was somebody’s grandmother, and it wasn’t in the Turner Room.

    He was sitting near the front of one of the arena side sections with the president of the university during the Earl Scruggs concert. I passed through there going to and from backstage, and on one occasion I walked right in front of him and said, “Excuse me.” Dustin then informed me that I had just stepped in front of Ralph Stanley, whereupon I made the aforementioned remark. Dustin then laughed uproariously and called me a fool.

    I’m not saying the interviewer didn’t get confused, mind you, but the one responsible for the grandmother remark was me and me alone. Methinks he is conflating two separate incidents into one.

    Anyway, there’s no way I’d claim to have made a horse’s behind of myself in such a fashion if it hadn’t happened.

    –ML

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