Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to The McLain Family Band Records

Accession Number: 86
The McLain Family Band Records, 1964-1999
Bulk Dates 1968-1988
25.2 linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Overview & Series Description
Series I - McLain Family Band
Series II - McLain Family Bluegrass Festival
Oversized Boxes

Overview of the Collection

These are correspondence, business records, concert programs, photographs, sound and video recordings that document the McLain Family Band's extensive local, national and international performing career during the years 1968-1988. This material was placed in Hutchins Library's Southern Appalachian Archives on December 14, 2000, by Betty Tallmadge and were opened for research in August of 2001.

The band came to be as the result of an interest in Bluegrass music developed by Raymond K. McLain (1928-2003) while Director of Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky, where he had moved in 1954 with his wife, Betty. This interest owed much to both family influence and formal academic training. McLain's mother had been director of Southern Folk Life Studies at the University of Alabama. He had majored in music theory at Denison University and done graduate work in folk music studies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

Family musical activity that included McLain's three oldest children, Raymond W., Alice, and Ruth, soon led to public performances. Initially calling themselves the "Bluegrass State," they found ready acceptance at various nearby venues including Lees College in Jackson, the Pikeville Jamboree, and WKYH-TV in Hazard. In varying combinations over the years, the band also included the younger McLain children, Nancy Ann and Michael; spouses, Al White, Beverly Buchanan, Michael Riopel; and non-relative, Tom Owen. Betty McLain served as the band's business manager.

Instrumentally, the band was strictly acoustic with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and upright bass predominating. Fiddle was used often and accordion occasionally. Besides vocal and instrumental compositions of their own, the band's repertoire drew upon bluegrass and country standards, novelty songs, and eastern Kentucky traditional music.

In 1970, the family moved to Berea where Raymond W. and Alice entered Berea College and Raymond K. taught Bluegrass Music courses that the College Music Department listed as "The History of Popular Music" and "Musical Expression in the Traditional Idiom."

The Band's first of fourteen overseas tours under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, occurred in July of 1972, with performances in Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Such travels would eventually take them to a total of sixty-two countries.

Extensive touring within the United States would take them to all fifty states. They performed at numerous community arts events, schools, and bluegrass festivals, and appeared on Bluegrass / Country Music TV and radio programs such as the Grand Ole Opry, Fire on the Mountain, and Nashville Now. During the early 1980s they had a weekly show of their own on Lexington's WKYT-TV. They also produced fourteen LP disc recordings marketed on their own Country Life label.

More unusual venues included the Kennedy Center, Louisville's J.B. Speed Art Museum, Carnegie Hall, NBC's Today Show, the PBS production, "Pearl and Friends at Center Stage," and the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Most unusually for a bluegrass band, they made numerous appearances with symphony orchestras including those in Cleveland, Atlanta, Louisville, Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Calgary. Their symphonic repertorie included Phillip Rhodes' arrangements of McLain originals, his Concerto for Bluegrass and Orchestra, Peter Schickele's Far Away From Here, and Raymond W's Troublesome Creek Suite, orchestrated by Newton Wayland.

In 1978, they started their own bluegrass festival. It was held that year at Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County, and for the remaining years, on their farm located in the Big Hill community near Berea. Annual attendance was in the range of six to seven thousand. Major Bluegrass acts and talented up-and-comers were featured along with bands from other countries and traditional dance groups such as the Green Grass Cloggers and Berea College Country Dancers. A special effort was made to include other family bands such as the Whites, the Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, and the Lewis Family. At various times, festival performances were carried on NPR's Folk Festival U.S.A., and in a series distributed to PBS stations by Kentucky Educational Television.

Maintaining a heavy performance schedule became increasingly difficult as the band members began establishing families of their own and pursuing other business, educational, and musical interests. They formally disbanded in 1989, but reunited briefly in 1994 for a concert at the Festival of the Bluegrass held at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington.

Series Description
50 Manuscript Boxes 3 Oversized Boxes

Series I   McLain Family Band Boxes 1-49

This series consists of a wide variety of print materials by or about the McLain Family Band and it's individual members. Included are correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, concert programs and advertising, study guides for school performances, photographs, sound and video recordings. Arranged chronologically.

Sub-series 1 Biographical Material Boxes 1-5

This sub-series includes presentation material introducing the band to potential bookers, study guides used in conjunction with school performances, lists of their commercial recordings, press clippings of performance reviews, and articles about the band in such publications as Muleskinner News, Bluegrass Unlimited, and Pickin'.

Sub-series 2 U.S. Performances   Boxes 5-9

This sub-series, arranged chronologically, includes printed programs and related advertising material that documents the band's concert and bluegrass festival appearances in the United States. There is also information about radio stations that played their recordings, and play lists from radio and TV performances on KET, WKYT and other stations.

Sub-series 3 International Performances Boxes 10-13

This sub-series, arranged alphabetically by country, documents the Band's extensive international performing activity. Included are substantial amounts of U.S. Government and other correspondence regarding scheduling, audience response, and travel experiences. Also included are printed programs, newspaper clippings, maps, and other memorabilia.

Sub-series 4   General Correspondence Boxes 14-21

This sub-series includes booking, record sales, and other business correspondence, letters of thanks from school groups, fan mail, and personal correspondence.

Sub-series 5 Subject Files Boxes 21-22

This sub-series, arranged alphabetically, includes material about various Bluegrass and Country music artists, other individuals and a wide range of subject areas including published sheet music, music written by various of the family, management contracts, music and business publications, and other material.

Sub-series 6 Financial Records Boxes 22, 52

This sub-series consists mainly of general ledgers documenting the band's financial activities (oversize box 52). Included is information about performance income, album sales, and festival income and expenses. Loose ledger sheets relating mostly to album production expenses and sales are in box 22.

Sub-series 7 Photographs Boxes 23-26, 53

This sub-series includes performance and promotional photographic prints and slides arranged in toughly chronological order. For some of these there are related negatives and proof sheets. Included also are performance and promotional photographs of several other Bluegrass musicians. Oversize photographs are in box 53.

Sub-series 8 Miscellany Boxes 27, 53-55

This sub-series includes several plaques, certificates, awards, oversized advertising posters, a MFB belt buckle, and a script for the PBS production, "Pearl and Friends at Center Stage" in which the Band appeared.

Sub-series 9 Sound and Video Recordings   Boxes 28-49

Most of the audio tapes in the collection are the master recordings of Raymond W. McLain's syndicated radio program, Kentucky Blue, which was produced at public radio station WUKY in Lexington during the 1970s and 1980s. Other audio material includes a concert performance in Alaska and several home sound recordings of the band's early television performances on WKYH in Hazard. Video material includes five Umatic and nine Beta cassettes which document KET and WKYT-TV performances. There is also one copy of each of the band's fourteen commercial LPs.

Series II McLain Family Bluegrass Festival Boxes 50-51

This series consists of correspondence, clippings, financial records, subject files, and photographs that document the McLain Family Bluegrass Festival that was held annually from 1978 to 1988.

Sub-series 1 Correspondence Box 50

This sub series includes correspondence about festival physical arrangements, promotion, performer bookings, and advanced ticket sales.

Sub-series 2 Clippings Box 50

This sub-series includes press and other clippings of Festival advertising and critical commentary.

Sub-series 3 Financial Records Boxes 51-52

This sub-series includes miscellaneous financial records of festival expenses and ticket sales.

Sub-series 4 Subject Files Box 51

This sub-series includes performer biographies and contracts, festival print advertising, ticket sale tallies and other festival operational material.

Sub-series 5 Photographs Box 51

This sub-series includes photographic prints and slides of the festival grounds and performers on stage. Arrangement is by size of photographs.

Home > Special Collections & Archives > Southern Appalachian Archives