Joe Meadows, 1934-2003
Ralph (Joe) Meadows was born on December 31, 1934 in the small coal town of Basin, WV. While a teenager, Joe picked up has father’s fiddle and taught himself to play by obsessive hours of practice, and by listening to recordings and the music of the Grand Ole Opry. His first music job was with a local country band that played for dances near his home.
While still a teenager, Joe began his bluegrass career with the Goins Brothers when they played out of Bluefield WV in 1952. Through this association he was recommended to the Stanley Brothers and he went to work with them in the fall of 1952. He stayed with them until the spring of 1955. While with the Stanley Brothers he became known as Joe so as not to cause confusion by having the same first name as Ralph Stanley. Joe played fiddle on approximately 30 of the Stanley Brother’s Mercury sides including “I Just Got Wise”, “Hard Times”, “Baby Girl” and “Orange Blossom Special”.
After leaving the Stanley Brothers, he worked with the Lilly Brothers, Jim and Jesse out of Live Oak, FL, and the Wheeling WWVA Jamboree, and with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. He then played music in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia area, first with Bill and Mary Reid and then with Buddy Starcher.
Joe left the road for a number of years and in the late 1970’s he resumed his career and worked with Larry Sparks, Dave Evans, and then again with the Goins Brothers. He rejoined Jim and Jesse and had one of his longest tenures with one band, which lasted from 1974 until 1980.
In 1982, Joe moved to the Washington DC area and worked for Senator Robert Byrd in the mail and correspondence section of his office.
Joe passed away in February 2003 after a long illness and Senator Byrd paid a nice tribute to him on the floor of the United States Senate.
While working for Senator Byrd, Joe helped him with his fiddle playing and was a close friend. He also played with a local band, Appalachian Reign for approximately 2 years, and during this time the band played music with Senator Byrd on many Sundays at his office in the Capitol. Joe was the ultimate side man and was able to style his playing to suit whatever was needed to bring out the best sound of the artist.
Throughout this period Joe also worked with many of the local DC area bands and played festival dates with an old time band, Country Ham. Joe recorded 10 solo fiddle albums for various labels and can be heard on the recordings of the Stanley Brothers, the Goins Brothers, Bill and Mary Reid, Jim and Jesse, Dave Evans, James King, Bill Emerson, the Patuxent Partners, and Country Ham.
Joe is recognized as a bluegrass pioneer by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and is deservedly recognized as one of the great fiddle players in the history of bluegrass and old time music.