When influential bluegrass fiddler Art Stamper died in 2005 at 71, the style of playing he popularized with the Stanley Brothers in the Fifties was already well established. The old-time mountain sounds of his native Kentucky, however, lost one of its greatest champions and historians. Fortunately, there is another: Art's sibling Charlie Stamper. This month, the elder Stamper brother released his first-ever album at the age of 84, Glory to the Meeting House.
A collection of songs and snippets of conversation, the project, released on the small label June Appal Records, was co-produced by J.D. Wilkes, leader of Southern-gothic punk band the Legendary Shack Shakers. Wilkes, a fellow Kentuckian, discovered Stamper while researching his book Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky and set out to capture his spry, often blazing, fiddling. Watch a video of Stamper, with Wilkes on banjo, playing the traditional "Willow Creek" above.
"Charlie Stamper is the kind of treasure that was always hiding in plain sight," Wilkes tells Rolling Stone Country. "Although his brother is in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Charlie has always been content to play at the local jamboree down the road and give lessons to the neighborhood kids."
In addition to Stamper's fiddle skills, Glory to the Meeting House also showcases his ability with the "thrum-bow," a rudimentary instrument made of a hickory bow and wire. Played with one's mouth, the sound produced recalls a hillbilly version of Joe Perry's "Sweet Emotion" talk box.
Wilkes says Stamper viewed making a record as something for his "bucket list," a way to honor his brother Art, Stamper patriarch Hiram, also a musician, and the "family tradition." "He's too humble to assert himself into the trending 'old time' scene," Wilkes says. "Only now has he allowed June Appal Records and me to spread word of his secret royalty."
Glory to the Meeting House, like the "Willow Creek" video, was recorded last January at Stamper's home in Cadiz, Kentucky.