Clinch Mountain Echo

The Stanley Brothers - Molly And Tenbrook / The Rambler's Blues

(Rich-R-Tone RRT-418) Sep 1948

Molly And Tenbrook
The Rambler's Blues L-R: Ralph and Carter, Art Wooten and Pee Wee Lambert c.1948.

This 78 is hugely significant in the scheme of things... Released sometime around September 1948[1], it was the first record to feature Ralph playing '3 finger' banjo and was the first 'bluegrass' release by an act, other than Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys.

Ralph:- "We'd heard the Bluegrass Boys play a song at shows, called 'Molly And Tenbrooks', which was a real fast number about a horse race. We liked it, so we went ahead and cut our own version for Hobe at the WOPI studio in Bristol. The way we did the song, we featured Pee Wee on lead vocal, and he took his tenor higher than even Bill got, and I put my new three-finger banjo playing into overdrive, thanks to what Earl (Scruggs) had shown me. It was really the most we'd ever sounded like Monroe's band, or ever would, but to tell the truth, we were just having fun, letting Pee Wee step out by himself like his hero Bill. The hitch was this, though: Our 'Molly And Tenbrooks' was released on Rich-R-Tone a year before Bill's record came out on Columbia, and that really got him mad. He thought we was ripping him off like some others were doing. Thing was, he hadn't even met us in person like Charlie (Monroe) had; he just took us for some upstarts from the mountains; and I can't say I blame him, even if we didn't mean any harm"[2]

Molly And Tenbrooks tells the tale of a 4-mile horse race which took place in Louisville, Kentucky on 4th July 1878 between Kentucky thoroughbred 'Ten Broeck' and Californian-owned 'Miss Mollie MacCarthy'. The earliest collected version of the song dates from the 1880's, and a version by Bill Monroe with Earl's 'fancy banjo' can be heard on the Dec. '46 - July '47 Grand Ol' Opry radio broadcasts. Monroe cut the song on 28th Oct 1947 but it wasn't released until 12th Sept 1949.[4]

Ralph:- "We used to scout out new songs when Bill Monroe played, too, like when we got 'Molly And Tenbrroks'. All of us Clinch Mountain Boys would be out there in the audience, and each man would write down a verse on a piece of paper and we'd learn it that way. The melody we could learn by ear, but the words was tough to get down from one listen, so we'd put together all those lines from theose scraps of paper, and we'd work out the song."[2]

It's perhaps also worth mentioning that the Stanley's release of Molly..., and Bill Monroe's subsequent rage, led him to leave Columbia when the Stanley's were signed to the label in October 1948, a month or so after the release of this '78.

A radio transcription of the Stanley's performing Molly... from 1947, with Ralph playing '2-finger' style has also resurfaced on the The Stanley Brothers On WCYB Bristol LP, which makes a fascinating comparison.

The flip side to the 78, Rambler's Blues is credited to Pee Wee Lambert, but was in fact written by Leslie Keith:- "I only wrote one song, the one Pee Wee put out: 'Roamin' Rambler' ('The Rambler's Blues'). I wrote that. Pee Wee wanted to do a song and he didn't have one of his own that he could sing without doing somebody else's stuff. So I just gave him that one. I was coming home from a show date one night and everybody's asleep, and I decided to write a song driving along. I wrote a lot of fiddle tunes like that (in my head), like this 'Wildcat Blues' of mine, but I only wrote but the one song."[3]

Both sides of the 78 can now be found on the Rounder Earliest Recordings: The Complete Rich-R-Tone 78s CD.

PS: There's accurate banjo tab for Ralph's break on Molly And Tenbrooks in Gary Bates's (aka Stanleytone) page on the banjohangout.


For a detailed breakdown and background to the Stanley's session, check Gary B. Reid's The Music Of The Stanley Brothers book, pages 14-16 and 19.

Original Release:
Molly And Tenbrook
Mid 1948
Rich-R-Tone RRT-418 Carter Stanley
Ralph Stanley
Art Wooten
Pee Wee Lambert

Bill Monroe
The Rambler's Blues
Mid 1948
Rich-R-Tone RRT-418 Carter Stanley
Ralph Stanley
Art Wooten
Pee Wee Lambert

Leslie Keith

Go To Top Of Page [1] 'Bluegrass Unlimited' article 'Pee Wee Lambert' by Frank Godbey (p. 14)
[2] Ralph Stanley and Eddie Dean's book 'Man Of Constant Sorrow' (p.136-137). Also relevant is p.134-135, where Ralph describes how Earl & Louise Scruggs visited with the Stanley's in the gap between him leaving Bill Monroe and joining up with Lester Flatt to form the Foggy Mountain Boys. Ralph:- "Earl was real freindly with me and I got to asking him about how we worked out his style, and he kindly showed me some stuff on the banjo in the backseat of the car when we were traveling. That helped me some, but I still didn't try to get the same lick Earl did."
[3] 'Bluegrass Unlimited' article 'Leslie Keith: Black Mountain Odyssey' by Bob Sayers (p.16)
[4] Neil V. Rosenberg and Charles K. Wolfe's book 'The Music Of Bill Monroe' (p.63, 70, 73-74, 298)