At one time or another I’ve mentioned coal miners; not only recognizing the part they’ve played in American history but also writing about how many families (including mine) have had connections to miners at some point. I’ve also written about the music of coal miners, and that leads us to one of the best instrumentalists around — banjo virtuoso Don Stover, who was himself a miner at one time.
Stover’s route to music immortality was a little different than most because it led through Boston, but his country roots were solid. Born in West Virginia during the depression, he spent time in the mines as a young man but was determined to follow a musical career. By the 1950s he had moved to Boston, where he would spend many years as a mainstay of some of the best groups around. His most regular stint was as part of the Lilly Brothers show that appeared at the popular Hillbilly Ranch and on local radio, but he occasionally worked with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson and others.
Stover gradually built his reputation as one of the best sidemen around, not only on radio and on stage but also in the recording studio. He often used the more melodic three-finger playing method rather than the clawhammer he’d learned from his mother, but he was a strong and talented banjoist in any style.
By the 1970s he had formed his own group, the White Oak Mountain Boys, and had also issued his classic album, Things In Life. It was filled with a lot of good songs and even included a few vocals, but one of the best tracks was an instrumental he’d written and named “Black Diamond.” Even though he would continue to work for many years until his death in 1996, that song’s homage to miners would in some ways complete the circle for the legendary banjoist.