The Blue Sky Boys
A tale of two North Carolina brothers whose old songs and vocal harmonies captivated southern radio audiences for generations
During the 1940s, country music was rapidly evolving from traditional songs and string band styles to honky-tonk, western swing, and bluegrass, via radio, records, and film. The Blue Sky Boys, brothers Bill (1917-2008) and Earl (1919-1998) Bolick, resisted the trend, preferring to perform folk and parlor songs, southern hymns, and new compositions that enhanced their trademark intimacy and warmth. They were still in their teens when they became professional musicians to avoid laboring in Depression-era North Carolina cotton mills. Their instantly recognizable style was fully formed by 1936, when even their first records captured soulful harmonies accented with spare guitar and mandolin accompaniments. They inspired imitators, but none could duplicate the Blue Sky Boys' emotional appeal or their distinctive Catawba County accents. Even their last records in the 1970s retained their unique magical sound decades after other country brother duets had come and gone.
In this absorbing account, Dick Spottswood combines excerpts from Bill Bolick's numerous spoken interviews and written accounts of his music, life, and career into a single narrative that presents much of the story in Bill's own voice. Spottswood reveals fascinating nuggets about broadcasting, recording, and surviving in the 1930s world of country music. He describes how the growing industry both aided and thwarted the Bolick brothers' career, and how World War II nearly finished it. The book features a complete, extensively annotated list of Blue Sky Boys songs, an updated discography that includes surviving unpublished records, and dozens of vintage photos and sheet music covers.
I grew up just outside Atlanta, Georgia, and I could . . . and did listen to the Blue Sky Boys virtually every afternoon on WGST Radio. There was something about their impeccable harmonies, plaintive songs, and straightforward musicianship that spoke to me from an early age. Listening to their recordings today, I can easily conjure up those old memories and warm feelings. They might not have been the biggest, brightest stars on the horizon, but their music and their contributions definitely mattered. They did then and they always will.- Bill Anderson
Whoever said you sounded like the Monroe Brothers sure didn't know what they were talking about.- RCA Victor's Eli Oberstein to the Blue Sky Boys (Bill and Earl Bolick), 1936
Bill and Earl Bolick of Hickory, North Carolina, are among the finest, if not the finest, examples of the sincerity and dignity of mountain music.- Ranger Doug, Riders in the Sky
When I first had a radio at home, the first duets and trios I heard were by the Blue Sky Boys. I always go by the Starday people and say I've got to have one of the Blue Sky Boys' latest albums. I take it home and play it over and over and over.- Jimmy Martin, 1964
I've had the pleasure of reading this wonderful story about Bill and Earl and heartily suggest everyone should read it.- Mac Wiseman