Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Group
About The Group
The Goins Brothers were an important albeit underrated bluegrass group, They helped maintain the sounds and songs of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, an even more under-appreciated pioneer bluegrass band of which they were once a key part. Natives of Bramwell, West Virginia, Melvin and Ray were part of a large family learning the fundamentals of music from a neighbor and listening to groups on station WHIS in nearby Bluefield.
Ray Goins recorded two sessions in 1952 on banjo with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers of vintage bluegrass on RCA Victor, but when the band moved to Detroit, Ray remained in West Virginia. Melvin (on guitar), Ray, teenage fiddler Joe Meadows, and a Goins uncle Bernard Dillon then formed the first Goins Brother group at WHIS. After several months of earning little money, Melvin and Ray jumped at the chance to rejoin the Fiddlers at WLSI Pikeville in November 1953. There they earned the princely sum of $12.50 weekly for radio, an additional $5.00 per day. They did two additional sessions for Victor in 1954.
First Ray and then Melvin left the Fiddlers in 1955 although they would rejoin in 1961. Ray dropped out of music for a time but Melvin went to a new station at Prestonsburg where he played for a few months. He went back to Bluefield and worked with Cecil Surrat for a while. Then he hooked up with Hylo Brown, doing comedy as "Hot Rize Charlie"and booking shows. In 1960 along with Hylo and band Melvin is in a WWVA Jamboree group photo. By 1961, he and Ray were back with Curly Ray and Ezra Cline in a new configuration of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers where they had a weekly TV show at WCYB Bristol and recorded three long play albums for Starday and a fourth one titled Hylo Brown Meets the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers (SLP 220). Whether they were still doing radio at WLSI is uncertain.
After departing from the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers again about 1964, Melvin soon began to play with the Stanley Brothers, booking shows and doing comedy as "Big Wilbur," a country bumpkin in a white polka-dotted red suit. Presumably it was Melvin who got the Stanley's a regular spot on the WWVA Jamboree where they played several times in 1966. Sadly, Carter Stanley's health was in serious decline by that time-a result of years of heavy alcohol consumption-and he died on December 1, 1966. Melvin stayed on with Ralph Stanley until May 1969 in a similar role to what he had been doing with the Brothers.
As bluegrass was beginning to boom again after several lean years, Melvin thought it was time to revive the Goins Brothers. Ray and his wife had been running a small country store and he also did carpenter work. Reform they did and they attained moderate success although not to the degree of the bands of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Ralph Stanley, Jim & Jesse, or the Osborne Brothers. They played festivals in the summer and daytime shows at schools in the off-season which did not pay much but kept them eating. They also recorded albums on the REM label in 1969 and Jalyn in 1970. Sometime in the summer of 1970 they even had the services of sixteen year old Ricky Skaggs who a few years later would attain superstar status.
In 1971, their band improved with the addition of Art Stamper, and then Joe Meadows on fiddle. They began recording for Jessup (also known as Michigan Bluegrass) of Jackson, Michigan and the quality of recording showed marked improvement. Over the next four years Melvin and Ray turned out four quality albums: Head of the Holler, Tribute to the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, God Bless Her, She's My Mother, and Bluegrass Blues (note: the fourth album was belatedly released in 1984 on a Plantation cassette; Plantation had bought the Jessup catalog). They also backed Joe Meadows on a fiddle album. Following their times with Jessup, the Brothers moved on to Rebel which along with Rounder was quickly becoming the record firm for quality bluegrass as the major labels had abandoned virtually every group/band except Bill Monroe.
During the Rebel era, the Goins Brothers produced four more quality albums and may have had their strongest ever band. It had young Buddy Griffin on fiddle, veteran Curley Lambert on mandolin, and younger brother Conley Goins (who had a George Jones type voice) on bass fiddle. Melvin also got into the festival business, having some success, especially those in partnership with R. W. Skeens in Scioto Furnace, Ohio. Other good ones were in Painter's Creek, Ohio and Clay City, Kentucky. Some were flops. For years it seemed Melvin was always looking for an ideal spot to hold a festival.
Through the years the Goins Brothers continued to be bluegrass festival stalwarts especially through the Ohio Valley and sometimes farther afield. Band members usually of quality came and went. The best often went on to work in Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys making it sometimes seem that the Goins band was like a "farm system" for Stanley.
When Rebel Records changed ownership and reduced their talent roster the Goins Brothers simply moved to other labels. They did two albums for Old Homestead and another for Vetco.
The Old Homestead albums were made when former Blue Grass Boy Danny Jones was a band member and he added some new songs to the Goins repertoire. They also had Art Stamper on fiddle. The Vetco gospel album was produced by Buddy Griffin who also played fiddle.
There followed a period when the record market was transitioning from vinyl albums to compact discs. Some material from that period came out only on cassette. These included a live album made at the University of Chicago Folk Festival. This coincided with a time when three band members-Rick May, mandolin; Bill Hamm, bass; and Gerald Evans, fiddle-added some zip and comedy to the group. Melvin nicknamed them the "Shed House Trio," a term used by Ralph Stanley to identify an act within his Clinch Mountain Boys. Another quality fiddler in the band for a time was Jason Carter who soon went to Nashville as a long-time sideman with Del McCoury.
By 1993, the compact disc had become ascendant in the record market and the Brothers signed with a new firm, Hay Holler of Blacksburg, Virginia. Their first disc Still Going Strong featured some new band members: fiddler James Price, lead guitarist John McNeely, and John Keith on mandolin. However, changes were soon to come.
Although Ray was the younger brother, he began to have heart problems in 1994 and had a serious operation late in the year. With their We'll Carry on album half-finished. Buddy Griffin, also a quality banjo picker, returned and helped finish it. Ray returned for a gospel album Run Satan Run, but retired thereafter. From 1997 he played only a few shows close to home and died July 2, 2007.
Melvin Goins proved to be a survivor, reconfiguring again as Melvin Goins and Windy Mountain with Dale Vanderpool as banjo player, McNeely, and John Rigsby on mandolin who for some years alternated between Windy Mountain and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Melvin did a custom compact disc titled Talk to Your Heart and then returned to Hay Holler for Bluegrass Blues in 1999.
In 2004 Melvin secured a Ford dealer in Ashland, Kentucky to sponsor a Sunday morning TV program on WSAZ-TV in Huntington called America's Bluegrass Band which became quite popular in the region. Two other veteran musicians helped-Don Rigsby and former Clinch Mountain Boy, Ernie Thacker. They did a disc called America's Favorite Hymns in 2005 that was well received in the region. However, the program was so overtaken by guest bands passing through the area that it virtually crowded out the originator.
Melvin and Windy Mountain turned out three quality discs in later years in addition to some from live shows. The studio effort one credited to Melvin Goins and Friends was a return to Rebel I Wouldn't Miss It and had such guest artists as Dave Evans, Larry Sparks, and Paul Williams. The others were cut at Tom T. and Dixie Hall's studio in Nashville: Light in the Window Again and Dancin' in the Dirt, the latter released on the Hall's Blue Circle label in 2008.
By this time Melvin was visibly showing his age and was having hearing problems, but he soldiered on. He had gained some renown as a story teller, talking about the tough times of the early days for musicians in hardscrabble West Virginia and Kentucky. He also began to get some recognition as one of the first generation in bluegrass. The end came while playing a festival in Ontario on July 29, 2016. Some years earlier deejay and historian Bill Vernon probably summed it up best, "The Goins Brothers have personified the soul of traditional bluegrass music."
Credits & Sources