For music fans, the name Ralph Stanley brings to mind the high, lonesome sound of traditional bluegrass. At 80, he's a living legend, having released more than 150 record albums. He's also one of the few members of the first generation of bluegrass pickers and singers still performing regularly. This might lead you to believe the name Ralph Stanley II would be quite a burden for a young singer to carry. But as VOA's Katherine Cole reports, "II" takes it all in stride.
One reason might be that the two Ralph Stanley's have totally different sounds. The patriarch is revered for his traditional style of mountain music, sung in a smoky high tenor.
The son's voice couldn't be more different. Ralph Stanley II sings with a baritone voice that is more reminiscent of traditional country singers George Jones or Merle Haggard.
Ralph Stanley II's voice also bears some resemblance to that of his late uncle Carter Stanley, which makes Fred Eaglesmith's song "Carter" rather an interesting choice for II to sing on his latest CD, This One Is II (Two).
"Fred's a big Stanley Brothers fan, and for him to write a song like that, and for me to get to sing it here was just a true blessing," Stanley says. "You know, it's kind of ironic how we got that song. When I first signed with Lonesome Day Records, the very day I signed, the song came in the mail."
Cole: "Was there any doubt in your mind that this is what you wanted to do?"
"When I was two years-old, I always wanted to sing," explains Stanley. "I loved George Jones and I loved The Stanley Brothers' music. You know, my dad he'd play a lot old stuff, like Carter Family songs. He'd play a lot of Bill Monroe stuff. My hero was always my Uncle Carter, of course. And Keith Whitley. And George [Jones]. My dad's a hero, too. And I always wanted to be his lead singer. And luckily, when I was 16 years-old, he gave me the job. But yes, I always wanted to do this. "
Raised in southwestern Virginia, Ralph Stanley II began going out on the road with his father when he was just two years-old. At 30, he has spent nearly half his life singing and playing rhythm guitar in his father's fabled band, The Clinch Mountain Boys. So it came as a surprise to some that Ralph Stanley II turned to writers outside the old school bluegrass and country worlds for songs to sing on his fourth solo CD.
"We did a song of Lyle Lovett's. Me and a couple of the guys co-wrote some of the songs," he notes. "Fred Eaglesmith, of course. Townes Van Zant. Elton John. We did a song of his.
"You know, I give Randall Deaton a lot of credit," Stanley adds. "Actually, Marty Raybon, too. They call me 'Two,' you know. They said 'Two, do you want to give it a shot? Try something different? Try to become your own self?' If anybody thinks I'm quitting, or taking off, that's not it. I'm still a Clinch Mountain Boy, and I always will be. It's just that I need to try something on my own. I'm my own person … 30 years-old. It's time to give it a shot I believe."
With This One is II, Ralph Stanley II has done more than just "give it a shot." While his new CD may sound a bit "too country" for fans of the current music out of Nashville, "This One is II" is a treat for anyone who appreciates the traditional sound of country music.