The McPeak Brothers sported one of the finest trio sounds in bluegrass. Although the earliest of brothers, Udell, began a career in music in the middle 1950s, it was a younger trio of Larry, Mike, and Dewey McPeak that made a lasting impression on bluegrass. Hailing from the southwestern Virginia community of Wytheville, the three men began developing their sound in the late 1960s. After releasing an album on a regional independent label, the group came to the attention of County Records of Floyd, Virginia. In 1977 and 1978, they released two albums for County; the first was a self-titled issue and the second was called Bend in the River.
When the McPeak Brothers were ready to record again, in 1983, it was for Rebel. In a sense, the McPeak Brothers’ association with Rebel started when they recorded for County. By the late 1970s, the County and Rebel labels were united as part of an organization that also included the County Sales mail order concern and a wholesale bluegrass album distributorship known as Record Depot.
Makin’ Tracks was the name of the McPeak Brothers’ debut for Rebel. Not surprisingly, the album was praised for the “intricate vocal trios” and was rated as their “best on-record work to date.” Larry McPeak, who was becoming known as much for his songwriting as his singing, contributed three of his original compositions: “Yesteryears,” “Rebecca,” and “Midnight Lady.” The balance of the album reflected the group’s appreciation of classic country music (Webb Pierce recorded “Walkin’ the Dog” in the early 1950s while a 1976 album by Merle Haggard contained “Livin’ With the Shades Pulled Down”) and contemporary folk/pop music (including Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and Michael Martin Murphey’s “Lost River”).
Some of the choicest tracks from the McPeak Brothers’ Rebel and County albums can be found in a CD called Yesteryears: The Best of the McPeak Brothers. It features 14 selections – roughly five from each of their County/Rebel releases. From their County debut album, The McPeak Brothers, came four country songs. “Shoulder to Shoulder” was written by Nashville songwriter Dallas Frazier and was recorded by Roy Clark, Ernest Tubb was the source for “You Won’t Ever Forget Me,” The Wilburn Brothers were the first to feature Damon Black’s ghostly “Simon Crutchfield’s Grave,” and George Jones scored with “Old Blue Tomorrow.” More country tunes came from the McPeak Brothers’ Bend in the River LP. The trio harmonies are shown to good effect on Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love” as well a Civil War saga that was first recorded by Mel Tillis called “The Last Time.” The McPeak Brothers were one of the first groups to record the song “Steel Rails,” which was later a hit for Alison Krauss. Songs from Makin’ Tracks include “Back to Dixie,” “Lost River,” “Yesteryears,” “Livin’ with the Shades Pulled Down,” and “Preachin’ Up a Storm.”