ELMER LONGMIRE: Talk to anyone involved with or who remembers the Tennessee Jamboree, or music making in general in LaFollette between the 1950s and 1970s, and they will likely point to Elmer Longmire as the towering figure, the local impresario, the most well-connected and well-organized of all the country musicians or radio entertainers around. Longmire was born in 1930 in Coolidge, Tennessee, a small, unincorporated community in the hills southeast of LaFollette. He grew up as one of seven children, with five brothers and one sister. The Longmires were a deeply religious family, belonging to the Coolidge Baptist Church; and all, brothers and sister alike, were musical in some way. Each learned to love and sing intuitively the tight harmonies that marked the ever-present gospel music.
Returned home from military service in the 1950s, Longmire gained employment at LaFollette’s “little” shirt factory. Throughout his life, including this period, Elmer continuously performed music in the church. His involvement at Coolidge Baptist church, both as a musician and, more generally, as a leader in the congregation, remained constant. At various times he served as deacon, choir director, president of the boy’s organization, and trustee. Longmire would gain the opportunity to take a greater role in the social life of LaFollette, when, in the early 1960s, he was hired as program director at Campbell County’s lone radio station, WLAF. By this time, Longmire had emerged, through his varied experiences, communicative strengths, and natural charm as a rare figure in the life of the community. Along with his business and communication skills, at WLAF, Longmire’s musical background again served him well.
Shortly after taking over the radio station, Longmire was approached by the Blue Valley Boys, the band which had served as the featured performers for nearly a decade on the Saturday night Tennessee Jamboree program. From the early 1960s until 1978, Longmire managed the Blue Valley Boys in all of their various musical endeavors, including, but certainly not limited to, the Jamboree. Under Longmire’s guidance, the Blue Valley Boys became regulars on the wider East Tennessee barn dance radio and concert circuit, “guesting” on several of the major programs in Knoxville. They also often served as the opening act when acts like Ernest Tubb or Loretta Lynn came to the area. Where there was a political rally, a car show, a business opening, a parade, or a fourth of July celebration in Campbell County, there were the Blue Valley Boys. And always, out front, singing, picking, and leading the pack was the magnetic Elmer Longmire.
MONROE QUEENER: Born in 1926 in rural Campbell County, Monroe Queener came of age right along with the radio medium. As a child on his family’s tobacco farm, Queener listened in each morning, at noontime, and on Saturday nights, to the country music broadcasts out of Knoxville and Nashville. For him, the music of Roy Acuff was best of all. More than Acuff’s singing and fiddling, though, it was the dobro playing of his longtime sidekick “Bashful Brother Oswald,” that produced the greatest impression. By his mid-teens, Queener began playing an Oswald-inspired dobro technique in a variety of local country bands.
Queener’s earliest success came in the band of Esco Hankins, a local Acuff disciple who enjoyed a following on East Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky radio. With Hankins, Queener played principally, while still in his teens, on Knoxville’s Cas Walker program in the early 1940s. A young guitar player also in the band named Josh Graves, likely learned certain dobro stylings from Queener, and eventually went on to tremendous success and influence with bluegrass pioneers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. For Queener, the next stop after the Hankins band was a stint in the army during WWII, and participation in the Battle of the Bulge. Returned from overseas, Queener played for a period on Atlanta radio stations. Back in Campbell County after a trip North for employment, Queener joined several popular bluegrass and country bands, including Pap and the Youngins, the Pinnacle Mountain Boys and the Blue Valley Boys. As an original member of the latter group, Queener helped start the earliest version of the Tennessee Jamboree, making him a pioneer of barn dance radio in his home community.
Queener remained with the Jamboree regularly until around 1970, and then as a frequent guest until the program’s end in 1978. His distinctive dobro playing made him one of the most popular musicians on the program. It also created a great demand for his playing, and he was able to circulate among several bands in East Tennessee. For most of these years he was able to play music with some assemblage, either on other small-town radio broadcasts, at dances, in local jams, or for tourists, somewhere in East Tennessee every single night, all while working days on road construction for the state.
CARLOS HENDERSON: Born in Henderson, KY, and raised in Valley Creek, TN, Carlos Henderson grew up in musical family, with his siblings and parents all pickers and singers. Henderson became a fluid player of mandolin, guitar, and fiddle; but it was the 5-string banjo, played in the bluegrass style of Earl Scruggs, that most caught his interest. During a brief stint working in Dayton, Ohio in the 1950s, Henderson left acoustic instruments aside and played electric guitar in several music clubs. There his fans dubbed him “Tennessee Slim.” Once moved to Campbell County, Carlos fell in with a slew of fine bluegrass musicians, including good friends Charlie Collins and Monroe Queener. He took up the banjo once more and joined an early version of the Blue Valley Boys. With this group he helped to launch and make successful the early version of the Tennessee Jamboree. He also recorded with the Blue Valley Boys on the Circe D label, contributing an especially hot rendition of banjo showpiece “Home Sweet Home.” Carlos remained with the Jamboree into the late 1960s, serving as a key figure both as an instrumentalist and vocalist. He is fondly remembered and respected by all of his fellow musicians and longtime fans.
ROBERT STEVENS: Longtime multi-instrumentalist and comedian Robert Stevens was a member of one of the earliest versions of the Blue Valley Boys in the 1950s. He remained with the group, and the Tennessee Jamboree, off and on for over two decades. To this day, fellow musicians and fans recall his hilarious portrayal of “Slap Happy Jake.” With Elmer Longmire as straight man, Stevens improvised numerous memorable skits in the exaggerated Jake guise. More than just a joker, though, Stevens also played bass, guitar and sang regularly with the Blue Valley Boys. Today Stevens is retired and living with his family in Florida
SARA MILLER: In the early 1970s, Sara Miller, wife of Elmer Longmire, joined the Blue Valley Boys and Girls and the Tennessee Jamboree. A gifted church singer, Miller helped develop a much-praised vocal trio with Elmer and his nephew Fred. Together, the three exemplified family harmony and impressed all who heard them sing, The Jamboree had always featured bluegrass and gospel vocal threesomes-but never one like this. Among the Jamboree veterans, talk often turns to the skill and beauty of Miller’s singing and harmony contributions.
RED HARRISON: In his role as the regular bass player, and by the sheer force of his spirited personality, Red Harrison served as the firm foundation of the Blue Valley Boys throughout the 1960s and 70s. Born on Coke Oven Hill in LaFollette, Fred Earl, or “Red,” was, by his teens, a dutiful follower of the Grand Ol’ Opry, Bill Monroe, and what became known as bluegrass music. Once moved to Kalamazoo, MI at age 17, Red bought his first Gibson guitar for $50, taught himself to pick it, and has played music even since. Returned to Tennessee, Red became “in demand” as a solid bass player, and, owing to his rich and consistent bass voice, as a lead singer. By the late 50s and early 60s, Red was playing for Cas Walker in Knoxville, and with Pap and the Youngins in Southeastern Kentucky. In the early 1960s, he brought his sizable talents to the Tennessee Jamboree, and stayed to sustain the shifting Blue Valley Boys lineups until the program ended in 1978. But Red never slowed down, and still hasn’t. With longtime partner Monroe Queener, Red played many years for tourists and fans in Gatlinburg. He also served lengthy stints with banjoist Wade Hill, and, most recently, with S&S Express. He continues to play weekly at the Cove Lake Pavilion and Rickard’s Ridge Restaurant. Chances are, if you hear bluegrass or country music in Campbell County, big Red will be picking it.
DEAN HUDDLESTON: “The pride of and joy of Whitley County, Kentucky,” Dean Huddleston has remained a fixture in regional music for six decades, with a performance record spanning community square dances, post-war small-town radio, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and the bluegrass festival circuit. Taught to play guitar, mandolin, and fiddle for dances by his uncle Arthur Tuggle, Huddleston, after a stint in Japan during WWII, quickly launched a career in radio after returning home. He became a featured performer in 1947 on Moonbow Minstrels, a live program on AM station WCTT in Corbin, KY. In early 50s, Huddleston became a regular on Knoxville’s Cas Walker show, and also, as member of Pap and the Youngins, on station WBVL in Barbourville, KY. Along with fellow “Youngins” Charlie Collins, Monroe Queener, and Red Harrison, Huddleston joined the the cast of the Tennessee Jamboree, repopulating the Blue Valley Boys in the early 1960s. He remained a member of the Jamboree through the decade, before joining the ensemble of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance in the 1970s. Huddelston performed as a member of the Bluegrass Drifters and, after leaving the Barn Dance, with Jim McCall and the Walker Mountain Boys. Today Dean continues to play at jam sessions and stage shows near his home in Berea, KY.
CARL STUMP: Well-traveled bluegrass mandolinist and vocalist Carl Stump joined the Tennessee Jamboree in the mid-60s after serving musical apprenticeships in Detroit, Michigan, Winchester, Virginia, and Harriman Tennessee. In Detroit’s vibrant country music scene of the 1950s, he rubbed shoulders with Frank Wakefield and Jimmy Martin, and played with Billy Swain, the Chain Mountain Boys and the Brushy Mountain Boys. Returned south to Harriman, Stump joined AM station WHBT as an engineer and broadcaster, and also performed live at noontime as part of Carl Stump and the Newport Brothers. Recruited onto the Jamboree, Stump added a solid, Monroe-influenced mandolin sensibility and flexible vocals to the classic Blue Valley Boys ensemble of the late 1960s. After his departure from the Jamboree in the early 1970s, Stump spent many tireless years playing seven nights a week in Gatlinburg with the Smoky Mountain Travelers and working as owner-operator of AM station WECO in Wartburg. Stump continues to pick at local jams and hosts a weekly bluegrass program on WECO.
“LITTLE” BARBARA JONES: “Little But Loud!”–That’s how Barbara (Sanders) Jones’ promotional photo described her in the mid-1960s. Throughout her career, though, Barb’s following was anything but little. Born in Harlan, KY, Little Barb, while still a child, started singing gospel music for audiences in area churches. At the same time, she absorbed the popular sounds she heard on Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry and on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Fellow Kentuckian Loretta Lynn and Marty Robbins were among her favorites. Barb moved to Campbell County with her family after high school and in no time was singing with both the Cumberland Valley Boys and, on the Tennessee Jamboree, with the Blue Valley Boys and Girls. Along with her tenacious vocals, bottomless heart-song repertoire, and girlish charm, it was her playful interaction with host Elmer Longmire that propelled Barb to a frequent top-billing on the Jamboree stage show. Often the pair-a visual odd-couple at nearly a foot and half difference in height-would jitterbug and waltz to the delight of the live audience. Little Barb became so popular on the Jamboree, as well as on Knoxville’s Cas Walker show, that doting fans would often make and send her dresses to go along with her trademark go-go boots! Barb slowed down as performer in the early 1970s after getting married, but has continued, as she did from the start, to sing often in church.
FRED LONGMIRE: As a child, Fred Longmire spent countless hours observing his treasured uncle Elmer, and, like him, fell under a similar spell of bluegrass picking, harmony singer, and cowboy music. Even after he moved to Ohio with his family, Fred often returned to LaFollette on the weekends to see his uncle and the Blue Valley Boys perform Saturday nights on the Jamboree. Fred moved back to Campbell County in the early 1970s and seamlessly entered the Blue Valley Boys and the Jamboree family. Along with Elmer and Sara Miller, Fred formed the most highly-praised vocal trio in the program’s history. Any that were lucky enough to hear them recall this threesome’s unmatched vocal adaptability, with each member able to shift between lead, tenor, or baritone with nary a word spoken. In this ensemble, Fred absorbed and carried forward the Longmire family gift for tight kinship harmony singing. Since the Jamboree‘s conclusion, Fred has continued to make music in a variety of prized regional groups, including Marshall Andy’s Riders of the Silver Screen Band, the Roving Crew, and New Ground Gospel. Most recently Fred has formed a new version of the Blue Valley Boys, and continues the family tradition with a nightly stage show at the gazebo outside the Ernest Tubb Record Store in Pigeon Forge, TN.
FRANCES BOSHEARS: In a sprawling family of six boys and six girls, Frances Boshears, the youngest of the females, was quickly designated the homeplace entertainer. As early as age two, her older brothers and sisters would trap her atop the mantel, persuading her to sing a song and play the mandolin in order to earn a safe return to the ground. Frances found her early song stock listening to country, bluegrass, and gospel music on the Knoxville and LaFollette radio stations, and quickly developed a knack for memorizing lyrics after just a few hearings. Her musical talent did not go unnoticed by neighbor and Blue Valley Boy Charlie Collins, as he eventually recruited her to visit LaFollette High School for the ongoing Saturday broadcasts of the Tennessee Jamboree. Once introduced to the program, Frances never missed a week. During the early to mid-60s she sang regularly on the Jamboree, and traveled with the Blue Valley Boys and Girls to engagements throughout the region. She also scored a weekly program with her cousins on AM station WBNT in Oneida, TN. After a lengthy run with the Jamboree, she relocated and joined the Sand Mountain Playboys, a hard-driving bluegrass outfit from Alabama. Over the years Frances has continued to sing, her voice ever compelling and strong. Today, just as in her youth, she enjoys making music in her relatives, swapping tunes and playing rhythm guitar yearly at the family homecomings.
JOHN HUNLEY: Red-hot guitarist John Hunley joined the Blue Valley Boys after being discovered by L.C. Edwards in a downtown LaFollette music store. A lifelong resident of Lake City, Hunley was raised in a family of musicians, his father and great-grandfather both accomplished old-time fiddlers. As a very young boy, he picked up the fiddle and mandolin. But, most of all, he excelled on the guitar. He finally put these skills to use on stage, when, upon returning to Tennessee after military service, and, after his encounter with Edwards, he became a featured guitarist on the weekly Tennessee Jamboree broadcasts in the late 1960s. Hunley’s ability to play both electric and flattop guitar, as well as his natural ease in moving between bluegrass, country, and rock and roll, made him a crucial element within the program’s variety show climate. After the Jamboree ended, Hunley went on to play with dozens of other groups, including a spell as lead guitarist with famed due Dale and Grace. In the 1980s, Hunley began pastoring and focused on spreading traditional bluegrass gospel music. Along with fellow Blue Valley Boys Fred Longmire and L.C. Edwards, he formed New Ground Gospel and released two successful album projects. Today, Hunley continues to play music weekly in churches around the region.
RAY BLACKWELL: Growing up in the Bruce Gap community, Ray Blackwell tuned in loyally to local and regional bluegrass and country music. As a teen he devotedly followed his hometown heros, LaFollette’s Elmer Longmire and the Blue Valley Boys. In the mid-1960s, along with other area teenage pickers Arlis Jackson, Junior Tadlock, Douglas Adkins, and Charles Edwards, he formed the Cumberland Valley Boys. With this popular young bluegrass outfit, guitarist and vocalist Blackwell made the rounds of the local schoolhouse dance circuit. Before long, the Cumberland Valley Boys went from being admirers of to collaborators with their heros on the Tennessee Jamboree. Blackwell and Jackson, especially, became regular performers on the Jamboree during the middle part of the decade. For a period, Blackwell took dobro lessons from legendary Blue Valley Boy Monroe Queener. Even while serving, during the late 1960s, in Vietman, Blackwell continued to listen to the Jamboree on reel-to-reel tapes mailed to him by friends. Once back home, Blackwell joined the Blue Valley Boys and played the Jamboree often throughout the 1970s. Along with Arlis Jackson, Blackwell earned a spot with Wade Hill’s Bluegrass Professionals and was featured on their recordings for the Rounder label.
L.C. EDWARDS: Skilled instrumentalist L.C. Edwards joined the Blue Valley Boys in the late 1960s, adding a solid technical precision to the Tennessee Jamboree with his featured banjo numbers. Born in Southeastern KY, Edwards moved to LaFollette, worked for the state of Tennessee, and became a dedicated follower and student of the banjo stylings of Lorne Rogers, a key figure in East Tennessee bluegrass super group the Pinnacle Mountain Boys. Edwards remained with the Blue Valley Boys off and on during the 1970s, and joined New Ground Gospel in the 1980s before eventually retiring from music. He continues to love and listen to bluegrass music in his spare time.
CURTIS CALDWELL: Kingston-area bass player Curtis Caldwell made the Tennessee Jamboree his musical home during the mid to late 1960s. A veteran of many regional bands, Caldwell joined the Blue Valley Boys after a stint with Roane County favorites Carl Stump and the Newport Brothers, an ensemble in which he often portrayed the comical rube “Fireball.” Caldwell-who helped bring the talented Stump to the Jamboree-left the program in the late-60s to become the staff bass player for the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Caldwell remained with the Barn Dance into the 1980s, all the while continuing to play with local Roane County outfits. Today Caldwell is retired and still living in Kingston.
ARLIS JACKSON: Fine fiddler Arlis Jackson came of age in Campbell County playing bluegrass music with the popular Cumberland Valley Boys. Along with close friend Ray Blackwell, he made the leap in the late 1960s to join the established Blue Valley Boys. Throughout the 1970s, Jackson was a regular fiddler on the Tennessee Jamboree and other regional radio programs. Along with Blackwell, he became a longtime member of Wade Hill’s successful Bluegrass Professionals. Jackson continues to make music in the Campbell County area.
JOY JOHNSON: Young Joy Johnson of Clinton brought a completely original element to the Tennessee Jamboree with her accomplished skills on the accordion. A mainstay performer during the mid-1960s, Johnson also contributed vocals to the Jamboree sound, often featured alongside other regular female singers, including Frances Boshears. Johnson’s bright personality and musical spirit were well-appreciated by Campbell County audiences, as well as during her frequent appearances at the Odd Fellows Hall in Oliver Springs. Today Joy lives with her family in Clinton, TN.