April 18, 1928 -. February 14, 2003 Remembering Raymond K. McLain

Remembering Raymond K. McLain (April 18, 1928 -. February 14, 2003), of The McLain Family Band, who was a bluegrass group that was active in the 1970s and 1980s and still occasionally performs today. Formed in 1968, the band consisted of father Raymond K. McLain on guitar, son Raymond W. McLain on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, vocals, and guitar, Alice McLain on vocals and mandolin, and Ruth McLain on bass, vocals, and mandolin. In later years Nancy Ann McLain and Michael McLain joined the group, playing bass and guitar respectively. Alice’s husband, Al White, joined the band in 1977, and played guitar and mandolin, as well as contributing vocals,

Between 1973 and 1986 the band released fourteen LPs on its own County Life Records label. One of the albums captures the group’s 1982 performance at Carnegie Hall where they were introduced by then First Lady of Kentucky Phyllis George. Others feature a bluegrass concerto written for them by North Carolina composer Phillip Rhodes and a performance of Far Away from Here, a piece written by Peter Schickele, also known as P. D. Q. Bach. The group toured 62 countries and all 50 states under the auspices of the State Department and have performed at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Symphony Center’s Orchestra Hall, and the Grand Ole Opry, in addition to appearing on The Today Show, CBS Morning News, Good Morning America, The BBC, and the Johnny Cash Christmas Special. The band also performed for a number of years at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival created by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. In 1975 the McLains discussed their international travels on All Things Considered in an interview with Noah Adams, specifically addressing their travels to Japan and Czechoslovakia. In 2013 the International Bluegrass Music Association honored the group by recognizing them with its Distinguished Achievement Award.
The band’s sound was characterized by Raymond W.’s banjo virtuosity, which has been described as “mindboggling,” and by the close harmonies of Alice and Ruth. Many of their most popular songs were written by family members, among them Raymond K.’s sister, Rosemary McLain Ware.
From 1978 until 1988 the McLains hosted a family band festival at their Big Hill Farm near Berea, Kentucky, drawing crowds of more than 6,000 people. Participants included The Whites, Jim and Jesse, The Osborne Brothers, The Lewis Family, The Marshall Family, The Sally Mountain Show (which at the time included Rhonda Vincent), and Blue Night Express (featuring two future members of the Dixie Chicks).
After the group disbanded, family members followed in the footsteps of Raymond F. McLain (1905-1981) and entered the world of education. Raymond F. held the position of President at three universities and published several books. Raymond W. helped create the first Bachelor of Arts Degree in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music at East Tennessee State University before becoming the Director of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University, where Ruth also teaches. Alice is an elementary school teacher in Berea, and Al teaches music at Berea College. Ruth and Nancy Ann work for children’s publisher Usborne Books.

Here's another tune (Far Away From Here) from Bluegrass In The Mountain.

Posted by The McLain Family Band on Thursday, June 26, 2014

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie

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