Ralph Stanley II
Ralph Stanley II’s career path was laid out for him by the time he was barely past the toddler stage. At age three, he was playing spoons on stage with his father, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. As time went on, “Two” acquired a miniature sized guitar and was strumming chords with the rest of the band. By the mid-1990s, his years of hard work and practicing landed him a spot as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist in his father’s Clinch Mountain Boys. He made one duet project with one of his band mates before setting out on the creation of a series of expertly produced and well received solo projects.
Two’s first solo release was called Listen To My Hammer Ring (REB-1750). In a note of praise that appeared in the CD booklet, popular country singer Marty Raybon observed that the “Stanley sound will continue for a long time in the person of Ralph Stanley II.” Making good on that promise, Two served up a dozen songs which were excellent showcases for his maturing young vocals and showed traces of inspiration from two powerhouse singers: Carter Stanley and Keith Whitley. With backing by the Clinch Mountain Boys, he made joyful recreations of a number of past Stanley triumphs. The project contained a few surprises, too. Chief among them was a song written by the late Carter Stanley that had never been recorded before, the poignant “Mary, Merry Christmas.” Also effective was Two’s rendering of the title track, which was written by bluegrass songwriter Aubrey Holt, and gospel legend Joe Isaacs’ “Strolling in the Moonlight.”
The follow-up to Two’s debut was called Pretty Girls, City Lights (REB-1760). Released in 2000, his fifth anniversary as a Clinch Mountain Boy, the disc followed the format of the previous one… only better. One reviewer noted, “He’s made dramatic progress in filling some pretty big shoes… his voice and interpretations evince a growing confidence and maturity.” The disc also presented Ralph Stanley II the songwriter. He appeared as a collaborator on several tunes and was the sole author of “I’ll Remember You in My Dreams.” Other new songs included fiddler James Price’s “It Sure Get’s Cold This Time of Year” and Ronnie Bowman’s “Pathway of Danger.”
Stanley Blues (REB-1775) marked Two’s biggest leap forward as a developing musician. While remaining true to the Stanley Sound, he created his most diverse project to date. In contrast to earlier releases, only a few Stanley classics were featured. Two of his own songs, the title track and “Taylor Brooke,” were among a strong list of predominantly new songs. Several pieces that resonated well with his fans were the coal mining anthem “Daddy’s Dinner Bucket” and the country-turned-bluegrass “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”
Two’s fourth recording was Carrying On (REB-1805). He co-wrote the title track as an acknowledgement of the dual burden he faces of continuing a family legacy while at the same time attempting to assert his individuality. If this disc is any indication, he seems to be meeting the challenge head on. He also penned “You’ll Never Be Mine” and “I Am the Way That I Am” and collaborated with guitarist James Alan Shelton to come up with the instrumental “Arizona Line.” Also new was Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s somber “Welcoming Tomb.”
In 2013, Two teamed up with his father for Side By Side (REB-1850). He and his father shared the duty of singing lead and were joined by Steve Sparkman on Banjo and John Rigsby on mandolin and fiddle. With the passing of his father in 2016, Two inherited the Clinch Mountain Boys and currently tours with them.