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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Roy Lee Centers vs Carter Stanley

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ksevile - Posted - 02/02/2016:  07:13:55

I have recently been obsessed with Roy Lee Center's vocals (for the past year). To me, he was/is the greatest bluegrass vocalist there ever was. To me, he was more of an actual "singer" than Carter if that  makes sense. Just beautiful and he was extremely versatile. He could do the shouting, almost yelled vocals excellent backed by Ralph (ala his performance on "On and On", probably my favorite example of this and Nobody's Love is like Mine, and Love me Darling Just Tonight), but he was also an incredibly gifted singer. I let some of my friends hear him singing and ask them what they think e.g. do you think these vocals are good. Their response is  "It's OK." I just don't know how anyone could hear the man sing and not be wowed by his vocals/voice. Does anyone else prefer Roy Lee over Carter? It's so unfortunate that he had to die, and especially the way he did. It would have been great to see him continue with Ralph.

When I first got into bluegrass music and didn't know anything about Ralph's line-up and I heard Roy Lee sing, I thought it was actually Ralph singing the verses on songs like Cry from the Cross, Nobody's Love is like Mine, etc and the Master's Bouqet (one of my favorites!). I have to say, I honestly think he outdid Carter when it comes to vocals! What do you all think?

When I first got into bluegrass, I had only heard the Stanley Brother's rendition of White Dove and liked it but when I heard Roy Lee sing it with Ralph I was blown away. I think he sang that song better than Carter honestly, along with Somebody Touched Me, Old Country Church, Master's Bouqet, and the rest of them.

Now honestly, it is hard for me to listen to Carter sing lead because to me compared to Roy Lee, Roy just blew him out of the water. I feel bad for having such a thought too! I also try to sing like Roy Lee and I just can't do it justice. I don't have his voice naturally anyway, but it'd be pretty neat too!

What do you all think?



Edited by - ksevile on 02/02/2016 07:14:57

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/02/2016:  09:55:38

I'm not sure I can make a fair comparison. Some of Roy Lee's pre-CMB vocals aren't as good as during his tenure with Ralph (*), and Carter seems to have had problems with his voice towards the end, at least judging by some of the Wango radio recordings/live sets.

I like whichever I'm listening to! The CMB's are an ensemble sound & I enjoy Curly Ray's comedy numbers just as much. Roy Lee was a much better banjo player than Carter though... tongue

PS: don't forget there is a "Stanley Style" member group here on the hangout...  See here for some info on the new reissue of Ralph/Roy Lee's Jessup material.

(*) See this blogsite if you're having difficulty tracking them down.

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/02/2016:  16:10:12

Some nice photo's of Roy Lee & Ralph here:-

J.Albert - Posted - 02/02/2016:  17:03:12

Roy Lee was the only one of Ralph's lead singers who could "out-Carter" Carter, if you get my drift.

Seems to me that Ralph once said that if he closed his eyes, he would think Roy Lee -was- Carter, if only for a moment...

rockyisland - Posted - 02/03/2016:  08:09:51

I think Roy Lee had the benefit of improved recording technology, which always helps. Seems like the band was a tighter in the early 1970s too.

This is sort of unrelated, but one reason I somewhat prefer the Roy Lee years is some of the questionable production choices the Stanley Bros. used in earlier recordings, like the weird walking bass and the heavy-reverb fiddle on some of the Mercury songs. Just my opinion though. 

rockyisland - Posted - 02/03/2016:  08:15:34

There are some songs on that Jesup Gospel Echoes album where Roy Lee really sounds like Carter. "White Dove" comes to mind.

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/04/2016:  01:05:45

p.186 of John Wright's Traveling The Highway Home Book has a neat annecdote from Faye McGinnis about Carter playing her one of Roy Lee's recordings (probably this 45, though the quoted release date would be a few months out!).

@ rockyisland:- The CMB's with Roy Lee also had a stable line-up of veteran pickers, whereas with Carter the SB's line-ups fluctuated quite a bit. I think that also helped with the tightness.

That early 70s line-up was great - and it's noticeable that a lot of Ralph's "Best Of" compilations draw heavily on that time.

Ralph certainly had some other fine vocalists too - Larry Sparks , Keith Whitley, Charlie Sizemore, Ernie Thacker.... they all 'cut the mustard' & then there's that "Introducing James King" album... all good stuff.

Not so keen on Nathan S. though crying

ksevile - Posted - 02/05/2016:  08:13:52

To me, Roy Lee was more of a "singer" than Carter if that makes sense. Thanks for the resources, Buzzbomb. I also just realized a couple days ago that you're the same person that uploaded some of my favorite live performances of Ralph with Ernie Thacker, although I will say that Ralph's banjo picking on those live performances seems rather "flat" if that makes sense.

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/05/2016:  11:41:28

Hi ksevile - I think I know what you mean, but I think Carter sang with a mountain load of soul...

I've been trying to find the quote from Bill Monroe about Carter - I think it's in this piece from Bluegrass Today quoting Dudley Connell:

" I once asked Bill Monroe who was his favorite lead singer in the history of the Blue Grass Boys. His answer, “Well, Carter Stanley was the best natural lead singer I ever had”.

Ta for the comment on the Edale videos... As time went on, Ralph's picking became much more minimalist - with simpler breaks and less creative back-up (sometimes just repeated pinches). There's interviews where he says he preferred to concentrate on his singing... and at least one other where he said he got to the point of not playing a banjo except when on the road & not wanting to see one around the house. I think arthritis & general aging probably played a part too...



stanleytone - Posted - 02/06/2016:  10:29:49

There are some songs that I think Roy Lee did better, and some that Carter did better. I miss them both.............sad

ksevile - Posted - 02/06/2016:  19:23:28


Originally posted by stanleytone


There are some songs that I think Roy Lee did better, and some that Carter did better. I miss them both.............sad


Which ones?

stanleytone - Posted - 02/06/2016:  20:04:52

Maybe i should rephrase that. I love both their voices. when i hear carter singing how mountain girls can love, stone walls ad steel bars and just because, i dont think anyone else could do it better. when i hear roy lee on that live in japan album, i think the same thing. I'm so confused!surpriseBut i have to admit roy's voice has a more velvety quality to it.

 if i HAD to choose...............Id have to go with Roy. Now on that clinch mountain gospel album, Keith Whitley was the man!

 Roy was one of the first bluegrass singers i really got into also


Edited by - stanleytone on 02/06/2016 20:09:11

ksevile - Posted - 02/12/2016:  19:43:28

I see exactly what you mean. By chance, is there maybe a recording anywhere of Roy Lee doing Stone Walls and Steel Bars with Ralph? That'd be worth a million dollars!

Roy Lee's voice had a more "volatile" quality to it if that makes sense. It seemed easier for him to "bounce" his voice around. It had a more "velvety" quality as you say, and I like how it also sounded like it was almost "echoing" at times in combination with Ralph and when he was solo (although the effect was obviously enhanced with Ralph ala "Honey in the Rock").

The only thing I will slightly disagree with you on is How Mountain Girls Can Love, and ONLY because Carter wasn't really singing it when he did the chorus it was more like he was shouting/spoken wording it, whereas Roy seemed like he was actually singing it on the chorus with Ralph in Live in Japan. I love the quick and sudden changes in Lee's 'volume' to his vocals too--the sudden--yet often times truncated for added effect--'rising' of his voice ala the line "The birds in the sky get to DRUNK they can't fly from the SMELL of that good old mountain dew... (emphasis added on this particular example with capitalization please excuse the eyesore).

Him and Ralph's harmony together was just amazing! It always had this "shaky" quality too it. Has anyone else noticed what I mean (ala "Nobody's Love is Like Mine", "Memories of Mother", "Long Journey Home", etc.). It was almost haunting! I've listened to Roy Lee sing so much and I still find myself asking--how could anyone sing like that? I've never even heard anyone that sounds remotely like him except Carter, but even then the difference is huge. 

Do you all think that that is Roy Lee's TRUE actual singing voice or do you think it is like a "put on" singing voice? I'm tempted to venture that it's slightly put on but I have no way of knowing but either way that should not detract from the virtuosity of Roy Lee Centers!

Edited by - ksevile on 02/12/2016 19:45:18

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/13/2016:  00:33:52


Originally posted by ksevile

I see exactly what you mean. By chance, is there maybe a recording anywhere of Roy Lee doing Stone Walls and Steel Bars with Ralph? That'd be worth a million dollars!


The only version I've heard with Roy Lee on vocals is from the Bill Gatton Chevy TV Show. It's audio only, and quality is a bit rough.

For more info see the BHO Stanley Style group blog:

ksevile - Posted - 02/17/2016:  05:24:37


Thank you very much Buzzbomb. You seem to be a Ralph Stanley aficionado!

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/20/2016:  01:53:54

Hi ksevile,

I got wondering last night if there was any footage of Roy Lee & found some info on another live tape with him singing "Stone Walls & Steel Bars": I'd love to get a copy of this one - what with Cheryl White standing in on bass it & also could be Roy Lee's last performance (recorded 28th April 1974 @ Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival, Marin County). Ralph's book (p316) says they flew back from a West Coast tour & took a few days off just before Roy Lee was murdered on 1st May.

I wonder if any video tapes of the "Bill Gatton" show are in some basement, who knows.... The only clip I've found with Roy Lee is about 2 seconds long & is amateur film footage from Bean Blossom 1971... The footage also includes lots of the notable bluegrass greats...

There's also some audio from this festival in the Ken Landreth collection at Fred Robbins site.

By the way - If you haven't picked up a copy of the "Bluegrass Country Soul" DVD, that's absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately there's no Roy Lee, as he had to go home as one of his children was in hospital. It's also on youtube... and there's a bunch of tapes from the same festival (Camp Springs 1971) on Fred Robbins site too. Bits of Ralph's set have resurfaced on the "Classic Stanley" 2xCD, but Ralph also issued a cassette in the late 80s or early 90s called "Live 1971 Vol. 1" with the unedited tape (where he explains Roy Lee's absence).

There's also a film John Cohen released in 1975 (or '76?) called "Musical Holdouts" - Ralph mentions it in his Man Of Constant Sorrow book (p429-430). I suspect it'll feature Keith Whitely rather than Roy Lee... Either way it's out of my price range!




Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/20/2016:  02:12:00

PS: Just found another live set with Roy Lee singing "Stone Walls & Steel Bars" @ Sugarmegs.(Harvard Freshman Union 28 March 1971)


Set list

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/21/2016:  01:27:51

A couple of corrections... Roy Lee was murdered in the early hours of 2nd May, not the 1st (as I said above)... Also found an interview with Ralph (BU Mar 1974) where talking about learning music as a child he says "Carter could play a tune or two on the banjo. I think he used his forefinger & thumb,"

...I got the April 28th 1974 set - only 17mins, but good quality/performance...

ksevile - Posted - 02/28/2016:  00:11:14

Wow Buzzbomb you are the man! if you could, please send me any other recordings of Roy Lee singing that are available from the Internet. If it has Roy Lee in it on Youtube, I've pretty much listened to it already. Thanks for that link and all of that wonderful information. Wonderful performance!

Oh my goodness! I just realized it has Roy Lee singing "If I lose"-- I was thinking just today actually about how awesome it would be to hear that and doubted if it had been recorded. But it has! It's the last song on there!

Thank you so much! This made my day.

Buzzbomb - Posted - 02/28/2016:  11:28:39

Hi ksevile,

"If I Lose" is also on the "Live At The Smithsonian Vol. 1" (King) CD...

The only other CMB live material with Roy Lee that I can currently think of is:-

Worth checking Fred's pictures too, as there's several with Roy Lee.

I hope to have the 28th April 1974 set online soon, but if you can't wait send me a PM with your email address & I'll send you a link.

Oh - and I presume you've seen the Bluegrass Unlimited 2003 article "The Death Of Roy Lee Centers"? The author has it online here:



ksevile - Posted - 03/02/2016:  17:46:41

Thank you very much! I am listening to the Smithsonian recording right now. I have to say there are some points within the performances where Roy Lee does not sound like Roy Lee AT ALL. It's very strange. His voice actually sounds slightly different overall than what I'm used to! In one of those live performances on YouTube, there is an interesting quality to Roy Lee's voice (I'm assuming its later in his career maybe, I can't remember the date off hand but it is in one of those that you cited above) where it sounds uncharacteristically low pitched and it just sounds really weird to listen to. Still very very good but not what I'm used to hearing!

On that audio link from that you linked earlier, I absolutely love those performances (particularly ones that I don't believe Ralph ever recorded in the studio with the Clinch Mountain Boys e.g. "Carolina Mountain Home"-- I believe he did this with Carter but I'm not too sure), but one that I've recently fell in love with is "Sweet Sally Brown". The way Roy Lee says "Browwwn..."! What would that be called? A mountain drawl? It sounds perfectly natural for him but it's definitely a sound that someone might cast scorn upon if they're not accustomed to Southern culture/accents! Lol.

Also, yes, I have seen that article, incidentally from a previous reference to it in an article on here about Roy. It would be great to hear how Mr. Centers would have sounded as he got older. Hard to believe he would be about 70 this year I believe!

Does anyone know of any vocalists that sound like Roy Lee Centers? Seem like there are really almost none besides Carter. Incidentally unrelated but it is quite interesting, Danny Lee Davis sounds a WHOLE lot like Ralph Stanley I notice! They even sang Dirty Black Coal together! By the way, his performance with Sammy Adkins live of "Could you Love me One More Time" is better than Ralph and Charlie Sizemore to me together at this particular point in time!

Edited by - ksevile on 03/02/2016 17:52:01

Buzzbomb - Posted - 03/03/2016:  10:12:39

The Smithsonian Vol. 1 CD is on of my favourites... I'm not 100% certain but I think it was recorded 10th March 1974. There's a note in the General Store section of the March '74 edition of Bluegrass Unlimited that says: "Ralph Stanley's March 10th concert at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, will be broadcast live nationwide, by most member stations of the National Public Radio Network."

Yeah "Carolina Mountain Home" was done by Ralph & Carter - there's version on the "On Radio" (Rebel) CD and a studio version from their King/Starday period. There's another version by Ralph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II on the "Side By Side" CD too.

You've presumably heard the version of "Sweet Sally Brown" with Larry Sparks? There's also a much later rendition with Ralph on lead on his "Sings His Favorites Now & Then" CD.

I don't think I've got Sammy Adkins doing "Could You Love Me One More Time" - his CDs are difficult to get hold of! Danny Lee Davis is great too!

By the way - I've now uploaded the tape of Roy Lee's last show:



Buzzbomb - Posted - 03/05/2016:  03:00:11

Hi ksevile,

A mate sent me a scan of the original 1992 "Live At The Smithsonian" CD that came out on Atteiram. It features the same material as "Vol. 1" & "Vol. 2" of the King CDs (with a couple of typos/mis-tittled tracks) but on the artwork also lists an additional final track "Let's Go To The Fair"... which has been crudely blocked out in black felt-tip.

It got me thinking about the running time. The King CDs are 42m 34s and 28m 28s - ie. 71m 02s in total... so I guess with the addition of "Let's Go The Fair" it exceeded the original Red Book CD playing time of 74m & the last track had to be excluded when the Atteiram disc was mastered.

That in turn suggests that the original tape was probably longer than 74m and could still exist in it's complete form (perhaps in the vaults of the Smithsonian Institution?)

Also listening to the show again - Ralph mentions that he & Curly Ray were made Kentucky Colonels 'this year' in December (also reported in Bluegrass Unlimited March 1974)... which supports the 10th March 1974 hypothesis.

I gotta get out more...



aallen - Posted - 03/14/2016:  13:57:22

quote:It is a shame that this man got to live the rest of his days a free man after brutally murdering Roy Lee Center's. I have heard said that he would openly brag to people about killing Roy Lee, and if given the opportunity, he would like to kill another famous person. Hollywood should make a movie about Roy Lee's life and the unjust way that his murder was handled.

Originally posted by Buzzbomb


Hi ksevile,

"If I Lose" is also on the "Live At The Smithsonian Vol. 1" (King) CD...

The only other CMB live material with Roy Lee that I can currently think of is:-

Worth checking Fred's pictures too, as there's several with Roy Lee.

I hope to have the 28th April 1974 set online soon, but if you can't wait send me a PM with your email address & I'll send you a link.

Oh - and I presume you've seen the Bluegrass Unlimited 2003 article "The Death Of Roy Lee Centers"? The author has it online here:




ksevile - Posted - 04/18/2016:  19:53:45

Found some more recordings of Roy Lee that you all may or may not have heard already. Each of Bean Blossom: (alternate to the one you posted earlier but a similar setlist) (believe this one is already on YouTube?)

Thanks for all the help everyone. This has led to a deeper appreciation of Roy Lee's talent! I cannot get enough of his singing.

ksevile - Posted - 04/19/2016:  18:11:09

Another recording of Roy Lee doing Stone Walls from Bean Blossom 1971.


Edit: BuzzBomb, I see this has your name--Ivor--in it! Could it be you're the uploader?

Buzzbomb - Posted - 04/19/2016:  23:08:30

Hi ksevile,

A mate told me about a live CD from Bean Blossom 72. I haven't received it yet, but it's Vol. 2 of a three volume set that is available from the Beam Blossom store It's available by itself or currently 'on offer' as the 3xCD set.... As soon as it arrives I'll post details - finger crossed the quality is better than the nth generation tapes...

Talking of which, I found the stuff now at  at various places on the 'net, which had become defunct. Fred Robbins (frobbi here on the hangout), graciously gave them a home.



PS: Makng progress on the Clinch Mountain Echo site... another couple of months and the discography should be complete (Ralph's bit anyway)

Buzzbomb - Posted - 04/21/2016:  10:39:16

The 'Live From Bean Blossom 1972 Vol. 2' arrived today. Quality is the same as the MP3's that have been doing the rounds...

Tracks 1-8 are from the late afternoon/early evening set on 17th June 1972...

Tracks 9-16 are the late evening set on 17th June '72... (Track 13 should be titled "When I Get Home" rather than "What A Singing There Will Be")

Tracks 17-22 (Farm & Fun Time / Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms / Doin' My Time / Katy Daley / White Dove / Hills Of Roane County) feature Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys... "Katey Daley" isn't listed, but is tagged onto the "Doin My Time" track... I've heard this set recently, but can't find it at the moment...

Total playing time 75:44 and it's a proper CD too (i.e. not a CDR).

tack - Posted - 05/18/2016:  17:37:41

As a long time Stanley fan, I can say that I can 100% without a doubt, I can always distinguish between Carter and Roy Lee. I respect them both to no end. I believe it was natural for Roy Lee to mimic Carter on all of the old Stanley Brothers songs, and he did it well.

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