Clinch Mountain Echo

The Stanley Brothers - Rank Stranger / Gathering Flowers For The Master's Bouquet

(Starday 506) Aug 1960

Rank Stranger
Gathering Flowers For The Master's Bouquet Rank Stranger (later pressing) Gathering Flowers For The Master's Bouquet (later pressing) Rank Stranger composer Albert E. Brumley

This 7" was recorded May/Jun 1960 in Magnum Studio, Jacksonville Fl[1] and features Rank Stranger, which proved to be one of the Stanley Brother's most iconic recordings.

'Billboard' maagazine reviewed the single in their 8th Aug 1960 edition, giving Rank Stranger 4 stars and describing it as:- "A very moving side by the boys here as they tell of returning to their old home and finding only strangers there. An inspirational side with a message."; while The Master's Bouquet got 3 stars being described as:- "Sacred item is sung with reverence by the boys here, as they tell of gathering flowers for 'The Master's Bouquet'."[2]

The recording session was the second for the Sacred Songs From The Hills album, which was released the following Nov.

Ralph:- "I remember back in the fifties we heard a gospel group called the Willow Branch Quartet. They played around the Bristol area, and they were like a lot of gospel groups that only played at church programs and on Sunday morning radio shows and never made any records. These little quartets had some of the prettiest singing you'd hear and they never wanted to make any money at it. All they wanted to do was sing to glorify God."

"We were driving to a show, listening to the radio, when we heard the Willow Branch Quartet doing a song called 'Rank Stranger'. There was something there that grabbed Carter and me. We'd never heard that term 'Rank Stranger' before. The song was all about feeling a stranger in this world, even with your own family and friends and neighbours, and how the next world would make all that right."

"The Willow Branch Quartet did a good job on that, but we wanted to make it different. Carter and me worked out a whole new arrangement that had my tenor coming in solo out of nowhere on the chorus. A lot of people tell me when my voice comes in that first time, they get chills running up and down thier spine. We wanted it to be like somebody surprising you from behind. Like somebody waking you up and everything seems different and you don't know if you're awake or still dreaming."

"I reckon it became the most popular song the Stanley Brothers ever sung. They holler for it everywhere I've ever played, with Carter and without Carter. I don't care where we've been in the world, if I mention 'Rank Stranger' on the stage, you're going to hear from the crowd."

"I never heard a thing about the Willow Grove (sic) Quartet since we heard them sing that Sunday morning, but 'Rank Stranger' keeps on going. It's one of those songs you know will always be sung somewhere, by somebody. I'm proud Carter and me somehow helped it from dying out. I know for a fact the song has helped many people when they've been down and hurting"[3]

Although Ralph says the Willow Branch Quartet never made a record, they did get to record at least one LP in 1969 and there is also a fascinating 1956 recording of their version of Rank Stranger on youtube.

Rank Stranger was written by Albert E. Brumley who entered a copyright notice for it in 1942. He also wrote or co-wrote songs like I'll Fly Away, Nobody Answered Me, If We Never Meet Again, This World Is Not My Home, Dreaming Of A Little Cabin, Campin' In Canaan('s) Land, I'll Put On A Crown, Prettiest Bed Of Flowers (aka The Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming), Standing By The River, The Blood That Stained The Old Rugged Cross, I'll Meet You In The Morning, I've Found A Hiding Place, Turn Your Radio On... and a whole bunch more. In total he's said to have wrote 600-800 songs. [4]

In 2009 the US Library Of Congress added the Stanley's recording of Rank Stranger to their National Recording Registry, which is some honour considering only 25 titles are chosen each year, showcasing the range and diversity of the American recorded sound heritage. Bobby Osborne also credited it as being his all time favourite song in an interview with Eddie Stubbs in 2007.[5]

The flip side, Gathering Flowers..., was a re-recording of a gospel song, which the Stanley's had previously cut for Columbia on the flip side to White Dove (Columbia 20577) in 1949

Both side of the 7" can now be found on The Early Starday/King Years, 1958-1961 4xCD box set.


For a detailed breakdown and background to the Stanley's session, check Gary B. Reid's The Music Of The Stanley Brothers book, pages 108-111 and 149.

Original Release:
Lead guitar:
Rank Stranger
?? May 1960
Starday 506 Carter Stanley
Ralph Stanley

Curley Lambert
Audie Webster
Ralph Mayo

Albert E. Brumley
Gathering Flowers For The Master's Bouquet
?? May 1960
Starday 506 Carter Stanley
Ralph Stanley
Ralph Mayo

Audie Webster
Curley Lambert

Marvin E. Baumgardner

Go To Top Of Page [1] This liner notes to The Early Starday/King Years, 1958-1961 give slightly different session dates for this album than Gary B. Reid's later The Music Of The Stanley Brothers book...
[2] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oB0EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA39&lpg=PA39&dq=billboard+Gathering+Flowers+For+The+Master%27s+Bouquet+stanley&source=bl&ots=I0sWg8TyW8&sig=53AkVTynX7sZRxj5lL4l1WOX7fU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizlq6v-t_UAhWDBsAKHcomD9QQ6AEIQDAI#v=onepage&q=billboard%20Gathering%20Flowers%20For%20The%20Master%27s%20Bouquet%20stanley&f=false
[3] Ralph Stanley and Eddie Dean's book 'Man Of Constant Sorrow' (p. 384)
[4] 'Bluegrass Unlimited' Jul 1986 article 'Albert E. Brumley - Folk Composer' by Bill Malone. (p69-77) and 'Bluegrass Unlimited' Jul. 2017 'Notes & Queries' section (P. 13)
[5] Kevin Donald Kehrberg - "I'll Fly Away": The Music And Career Of Albert E. Brumley (University of Kentucky Doctoral dissertation 2010) - http://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=gradschool_diss