Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jim & Jesse McReynolds

It was on March 2, 1964 that Jim & Jesse became members of the Grand Ole Opry. While Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002, Jesse has continued on as an Opry member. Today is his 49th year as a member.

Jim and Jesse were born in Carfax, Virginia and raised in the hill country of Appalachian Virginia. Their father and grandfather were fiddlers and music was a big part of their lives. The brothers began performing as the McReynolds Brothers, moving around to various radio stations throughout the Southeast and Midwest. The first recorded as the Virginia Trio for Kentucky Records in 1951. By the time of their first sessions for Capital Records in 1952, Jesse was already experimenting with his cross-picking style, which he describes as "a backwards roll, like the technique used in banjo playing." At this time, they began calling themselves Jim & Jesse and their band the Virginia Boys.

In the 1950s Jim & Jesse appeared on a number of radio barn dancers, including the WDVA Barn Dance in Danville, Virginia, the Midday Merry Go-Round on WNOX in Knoxville, the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia, and the Suwanee River Jamboree on WNER in Live Oak, Florida. Beginning in the mid-1950s they also had their own local television shows in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, which were picked up by sponsor Martha White in 1960 and expanded to include other markets. In 1960 Jim & Jesse began to record for Epic Records, and their first two albums, "Bluegrass Special" and "Bluegrass Classics" with Allen Shelton on banjo, Don McHan on guitar and harmony vocals, and David Sutherland on bass, are considered to be the most definitive of their style and talents.

In 1964, the year they joined the Grand Ole Opry, "Cotton Mill Man" became Jim & Jesse's first record on the country charts, and "Diesel on My Tail", their most commercially successful single, reached the country Top Twenty in 1967. Starting in the 1970s, most of their recordings were on their own Double J label. From the mid 1960s into the 1970s Jim & Jesse had a popular, syndicated TV program; on it their music included electric guitars and steel guitars instead of traditional acoustic bluegrass instrumentation.

The duo consistently made the country charts on a regular basis from the 1960s into the 1980s and their hits included "Paradise", "Better Times A-Coming", "Ballad of Thunder Road". "Freight Train" and "North Wind". In 1993 Jim & Jesse were elected into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor.

Jim McReynolds passed away on December 31, 2002 after a long illness. Since that time, Jesse has continued on alone, continuing the McReynolds sound while also striking out on his own. His latest album was a tribute to the Grateful Dead, that Jesse said was his best selling album. Jesse is also considered one of the most innovative and prolific mandolin players around today. He continues to record and tour with a new group of Virginia Boys, that at times have included his grandchildren.

Jesse remembered the first time they were on the Opry. "The first time we were on the Opry we thought, 'Gosh, think of all the people who've been here.' I see all these young people come in now and just stand downstairs where so many big stars have been throughout the years. We were the same way, never dreamed we'd ever get to the Grand Ole Opry.

To honor Jesse McReynolds, and to remember Jim McReynolds, here is the line-up from the Grand Ole Opry on March 7, 1964, their first appearance as members of the Grand Ole Opry.

7:30: Luzianne
Jimmy Newman (host): Alligator Man
Wilburn Brothers: (?)
Marion Worth: You Took Him Off My Hands
Stringbean: Little Pink
Jimmy Newman: DJ For A Day
Del Wood: Waiting for the Robert E Lee
Merle Kilgore: (?)
Wilburn Brothers: (?)
Jimmy Newman: Six Days on the Road

8:00: Martha White
Flatt & Scruggs (host): (?)
Skeeter Davis: The End of the World
Glaser Brothers: (?)
Ernest Ashworth: Talk Back Trembling Lips
Flatt & Scruggs: (?)
Ray Pillow: (?)
Crook Brothers: Black Mountain Rag
Flatt & Scruggs: (?)

8:30: Stephens
Roy Acuff (host): Low & Lonely
June Stearns: (?)
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Each Season Changes You
Archie Campbell: Comedy
Roy Acuff: The End of the World
Hank Williams, Jr: Long Gone Lonesome Blues
Brother Oswald: My Curly Headed Baby
Howdy Forrester: Soldier's Joy
Roy Acuff: Mother's Only Sleeping

9:00: Pet Milk
Ernest Tubb (host): (?)
Jean Shepard: (?)
Billy Walker: Forever
Jim & Jesse: (?)
Ernest Tubb (?)
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Ida Red
Cousin Jody: I Suffered More Then You'll Ever Know
Jean Shepard: (?)
Ernest Tubb: (?)

9:30: Kelloggs
Leroy Van Dyke (host): (?)
Carter Family: (?)
The Browns: (?)
Willis Brothers: Big Daddy
Leroy Van Dyke: (?)
Dottie West: (?)
The Carter Family: (?)
The Browns: (?)
Leroy Van Dyke: (?)

10:00: Shick
Wilburn Brothers (host): (?)
Jimmy Newman: The Mover
Stringbean: (?)
Wilburn Brothers: (?)

10:15: SSS Tonic
Flatt & Scruggs (host): (?)
Marion Worth: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Del Wood: Quennie of the Town
Flatt & Scruggs: (?)

10:30: Harveys
Roy Acuff (host): (?)
Skeeter Davis: He Says the Same Things to Me
Ernest Ashworth: A Week in the County Jail
Roy Acuff: (?)
Howdy Forrester & Jimmy Riddle: Black Mountain Rag

10:45: Ford
Ernest Tubb (host): (?)
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: I Wanna Be Loved
Crook Brothers: Lafayette
Ernest Tubb: (?)
Stoney Cooper: Fiddle Tune

11:00: Coca-Cola
Leroy Van Dyke (host): (?)
Jean Shepard: (?)
Billy Walker: Charlie's Shoes
Glaser Brothers: (?)
Leroy Van Dyke: (?)
Hank Williams, Jr: Cold, Cold Heart
Sam McGee: Dear Old Southern Home
Glaser Brothers: (?)
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Katy Hill
Leroy Van Dyke: (?)

11:30: Gretsch Guitars
Marty Robbins (host): (?)
The Browns: (?)
Willis Brothers: Private Lee
Jim & Jesse: (?)
Marty Robbins: (?)
Cousin Jody: Cripple Creek
Don Winters: (?)
Willis Brothers: Everlovin Dixieland
Marty Robbins: (?)

A couple of notes on this particular night. Ernest Ashworth was also a new member of the Grand Ole Opry on this night. This has happened a couple of times in the Opry's history, when 2 new members joined the same night. Connie Smith and Bob Luman were two others. Also Ray Pillow was on this show, but he was a guest artist and not a member as of yet.

Again, congratulations to Jesse McReynolds for 49 years of Opry membership.


  1. Thanks for the lineup and memories. Remember that Jim & Jesse did "Berry Pickin' in the Country," an album of Chuck Berry songs. After that, Mac Wiseman did a beautiful CD of Gordon Lightfoot. Still, I don't think Lester Flatt singing Bob Dylan quite worked.

  2. Fred, Bismarck:

    Michael, I have that Wiseman-doing-Lightfoot and love it. I think that works so well because Lightfoot is basically a country writer and singer (altho with his own folk/Canadian twist). And, of course, the songs are terrific ... and the great Mac recorded almost nothing but great songs, wherever they came from.

    I've missed -- but don't really miss -- Lester doing Bob Dylan.

  3. Fred, it's one of the reasons the group broke up: Scruggs wanted to do different stuff and Flatt wanted to do bluegrass.

  4. Jim and Jesse have always been one of my favorite bluegrass groups. They had a unique sound....certainly Jesse's style of mandolin picking ("cross picking") is all his own and no one else has ever been able to duplicate their sound. They also experimented with their sound pushed the boundaries of bluegrass without ever knocking down the walls or offending Bill Monroe(!). Jim's voice was also one of the most distinctive in any genre of music and his passing was certainly a loss to the bluegrass community.

  5. I've commented before about Jim and Jesse so I'll be brief.

    They were a class act in every respect and are among my all time favorite Opry acts. They always dressed so neat and made a wonderful sight on stage with the band members all dressed the same and Jim and Jesse alike but different than the band. They were great to the fans and put on solid shows that were always different because they had so many great recordings to draw from and they always carried a top notch band. Of course as Barry mentioned above they were outstanding musicians and singers and Jim was right up there with the likes of Ira Louvin. Poise, professionalism, dignity and grace are the words I believe Eddie Stubbs has used and that is fitting for Jim and Jesse.

    It's wonderful to still hear Jesse and the Virgina Boy's, and sometimes girl, on the Opry. Jesse is still showing them how it's done and gets wonderful applause. It could never be the same without Jim but it is still great and I am thankful Jesse has carried on and kept the McReynolds sound alive.

    Knightsville, IN