Benny and Vallie Cain

From Ivan M. Tribe –

Benny and Vallie CainBenny and Vallie Cain were a traditionally oriented husband and wife harmony duet. While they never ascended to the high ranks of fame in the Bluegrass field, the couple deserves considerable credit for helping to popularize the music in the nation’s capital.

Their pleasing, but somewhat atypical, harmony blend adds a touch of uniqueness to their vocal sound. At the age of 3, Benny Cain moved with his parents to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia and began playing harmonica at the age of 8. Later, he began to play a little guitar and banjo, but eventually settled on the mandolin.

In August 1942, young Cain joined the U.S. Navy and served four years as a gunnery officer in both Europe and the Pacific. After his discharge, Benny went to work for the U.S. Treasury in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He remained in the civil service until his retirement in 1985, only pursuing music as a part time avocation.

Vallie Cave’s family had moved to Berkeley Springs about 1934. In 1947, Benny met Vallie and within a few months, they had organized a band, the Country Cousins and obtained a weekly radio program at WINC Winchester, Virginia. The couple married in July 1950 and moved to Washington, D.C. While Benny kept his day job, the Cains maintained a heavy schedule of restaurant and club appearances on weeknights and often worked at parks and carnivals on weekends.

The year that they married, the Cains switched from a Country to a Bluegrass instrumental format that blended well with their vocal harmony. Over the next quarter century, many well-known Bluegrass musicians worked as members of their band, the Country Clan, including Bill Emerson, Don Bryant, Johnny Whisnant, Don Stover, Scott Stoneman, Pete Kuykendall, Roni Stoneman, Don Mulkey, Tom Gray and their son, Paul Cain.

The Cains made their first recording, a single on the Adelphi label, in 1956. In 1962, they affiliated with Rebel Records, releasing three singles in the next two years. Ten additional cuts appeared on the four-album set Bluegrass Spectacular, which contained a total of 70 songs and tunes, 13 by Benny and Vallie. In 1968, they did their debut album for Rebel simply titled Benny And Vallie Cain And The Country Clan. Six years later, they followed with More Of Benny And Vallie Cain, assisted by Bill Poffinbarger on fiddle and Billy Wheeler on banjo. In the 1970s, Benny and Vallie continued their regular work at restaurants and clubs, albeit less frequently than in the two previous decades. They also worked some Bluegrass festivals. In 1982, they did a tour of Europe performing their music and in 1985, Benny retired from his position with the federal government.

Over the years, Benny gained a considerable reputation as an authority on stringed instruments and also as a song collector. In 1990, Benny suffered a mild heart attack, but subsequently recovered. Benny and Vallie Cain resided in Falls Church, Virginia and were still playing an occasional weekend show date, until Vallie died in the spring of 1993. Benny died five years later on November 8, 1998.