Though he has often called 'The Father of Bluegrass Gospel,' Carl Story's music often transcends both of those genres. His classic recordings date from the late 1940s and the mid-1950s – what Story himself called "the good old glory days," and among the best of these are the 18 sides done for Columbia between 1953 and 1955, the sides presented in this collection. Here is Story with a well-seasoned band of Knoxville area veterans, many of whom had performed with him for years, most at the peak of their performing years. The sound they made owed something to bluegrass and something to gospel, but also included early honkytonk country, a taste of rockabilly, and even a nod or two to western music. It was a prime example of what Don Gibson once called "that old Knoxville sound," a sound popularized by WNOX and Cas Walker, a sound that included at various times Molly O'Day, The Bailey Brothers, The Brewster Brothers, Carl Smith, The Carter Sisters, and others. It was a 'mossier' sound than that heard in Nashville or Dallas at the time, a style that held onto the 1930s rather than aimed toward the 1950s.
Like so many singers steeped in the mountain sound, Carl Moore Story was from North Carolina – born in Caldwell County, near the Brushy Mountains, on May 29, 1916. His father was a well-known local fiddler who taught Carl tunes and brought home stacks of Victrola records to play; "I bet we had almost every record made by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers," recalled Story. He learned to play fiddle by the time he was nine, and soon was learning guitar and clawhammer banjo. When he was barely 14, Carl met another young teenager from the area, Johnny Whisnant, who was already developing into a good banjo player. After apprenticing in a local radio band, they formed their own group, the first incarnation of The Rambling Mountaineers. They soon landed a regular radio spot over Spartanburg, sponsored by a nostrum called 'Scalf's Indian River Medicine.' Owned by a herb company, Scalf's remained Story's sponsor for several years.
The band moved on to increasingly larger stations, first at Hickory, North Carolina and then to Asheville, North Carolina. By 1941, however, the draft was taking many young musicians in the area, and it became increasingly hard to hold the band together. One day Story ran into his friend Clyde Moody, who was playing on the Opry with Bill Monroe; Monroe needed a fiddler, he said, and Carl decided to give up on his own band and join Monroe. "I wasn't sure I could play fiddle as fast as Bill Monroe's boys played, but Bill took his time and showed me what to do." But about a year after he joined The Blue Grass Boys, Story himself was drafted into service
Discharged from the Navy in 1945, Carl reformed The Rambling Mountaineers and in December 1945 got a slot at WNOX on the most popular radio show in east Tennessee, 'The Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round.' The band toured widely in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, often playing to packed houses and often having to do two shows to accommodate all their fans. Often they toured with the station's most popular act, Molly O'Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, and Carl and 'Merry-Go-Round' emcee Lowell Blanchard co-authored one of Molly's biggest songs, I Heard My Mother Weeping. In 1947 Murray Nash, an A&R man for Mercury, heard the band on the radio and signed them to a contract. Several sessions followed, with cuts ranging from gospel (Keep On The Firing Line) to mainstream country (Tennessee Border).
By 1953, though, major changes occurred. Carl got into an argument with Dee Kilpatrick who had taken over from Murray Nash about the direction of his recording; Mercury wanted Carl to do more mainstream country and covers of other mainstream hits. Thus when Troy Martin put Carl in touch with Columbia, and they offered him a contract, he jumped at it. The group had also left WNOX and eventually landed at WAYS in Charlotte, North Carolina; here they worked for a straight salary and could advertise their own show dates. One giveaway (for a new-fangled TV set) drew some 27,000 entries. Carl also started a new weekly barn dance show, 'The Tar Heel Barn Dance.'
By this time The Rambling Mountaineers featured a core group of excellent musicians who had performed together for years: mandolin player Red Rector, guitarist Claude Boone, and dobro player Ray 'Duck' Atkins. It is this basic group that is heard on the Columbia records. Ray Atkins (1927 - 1997) was the earliest to join with Carl; a native of Erwin, Tennessee (near Kingsport), he met Story in 1942, when he was only 15 and was playing dobro in a talent contest which Story was judging. Impressed with the youngster's ability to master then then-rare dobro, Story asked him to join his band, then at Asheville. In 1946 he joined Johnnie and Jack, playing in Nashville and Shreveport and adding his sound to their hit Poison Love. He was back in Knoxville in 1951, when he rejoined Story. He was called 'Duck' because he did a comedy act which involved a puppet of a duck and because of his Donald Duck imitation he did in the act.