Country music pioneer dies at 104

DETROIT (AP) - Wade Mainer, a country music pioneer who is
credited with inventing the two-finger banjo picking style that
paved the way for the Bluegrass era, has died. He was 104.
Mainer died at his home in Flint Township, about 60 miles
northwest of Detroit, according to the funeral home where his
service was to be held.
He was a member of late brother J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers, one
of the most popular sibling duos of the 1930s. He made recordings
for all the major labels of the day, including RCA in 1935, and
invented a two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for
the bluegrass era.
"Wade Mainer is the last of the old guard from the `20s and
`30s to pass on. Mainer's Mountaineers was a huge group during that
time. They influenced the Monroe Brothers, The Delmore Brothers,
The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Reno and Smiley and
countless other music groups from the South," country and
bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs said in an email Wednesday to The
Associated Press. "My dad loved them as well so I heard lots of
Mainer's Mountaineers in my house, too."
John Ramble, senior historian of the Country Music Hall of Fame
and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., said Mainer's two-finger style
helped make the banjo more prominent in old-time, or early country
music. Using two fingers, as opposed to the downward strumming
motion of the "claw hammer" style, allowed him to be more
Born near Asheville, N.C., Mainer got his musical start in North
Carolina's mountains and later rediscovered it in an industrial
Michigan city. Concerned that country music was dying, he left the
stage and the South in the early 1950s and moved to Flint, Mich.,
to work for General Motors. He played only in church but eventually
stopped altogether, putting the banjo under his bed for four years.
Mainer returned to music after another musician convinced the
born-again Christian he could use his talents to honor God. He told
The Associated Press in 1991 that he got back on the circuit in
1970s after country-western star Tex Ritter bumped into one of
Mainer's sons.
"Ritter said, `He's been dead for 15 years, ain't he?" Mainer
said. "A lot of people thought I was dead."
Mainer said at the time many of his friends gave up the
traditional mountain music for the faster-paced, more profitable
bluegrass style.
"This is the only kind of music there is that's good listening
and tells a story," he said.
Rumble said by the early 1950s, Mainer's style was "becoming
increasingly dated," and nobody but the biggest stars made much
money. But by the time he restarted in the early 1970s, there was a
renewed interest in music like his because of the folk revival.
"It's just remarkable that at his advanced age he stayed
accessible," Rumble said. "He was literally a living link to
pre-war country music and the first generation of professional
country musicians who worked on radio and recorded."
Mainer is survived by his wife, Julia, whom he married in 1937
and often performed with him. They had four sons and one daughter
as well as two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. One
son died in 1985.
A funeral service is set for Friday at Swartz Funeral Home in
Mundy Township near Flint.
Associated Press writer Chris Talbott in Nashville, Tenn.,
contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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