Eubanks Brothers

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Representing a historical milestone in the Ozark music scene, the Eubanks Brothers are also one of the early bluegrass groups from this region about which very little information has been uncovered, other…
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Representing a historical milestone in the Ozark music scene, the Eubanks Brothers are also one of the early bluegrass groups from this region about which very little information has been uncovered, other than mid-'50s recording activity and gigging around the lively tri-state area of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Although some of these recordings, including the misspelled "Message for Piece," were done simply by the trio of brothers Marlin, James, and Robert Eubanks, group photographs show a quintet including female vocalist Wilma Hastings, hardly a brother but certainly a pleasing addition to the mountain music harmonies. The brothers themselves were all natives of Oklahoma, born in increments in the decade beginning in 1926. Marlin Eubanks was the first, arriving in the summer, and followed by brothers whose births, if nothing else, revealed careful planning on the part of the parents, as a three- or four-year recovery period followed each child before the next came along. Scholars of the brother-duet phenomenon in old-time and bluegrass music can debate the difference between the harmonizing in a group with as wide an age span as Marlin Eubanks and his youngest brother Bob Eubanks, who was not born until May of 1936, and other ensembles in which the gap in years is slimmer. The potential for combining both pre- and post-pubescent vocal ranges, as musically exploited by many composers of early choral music in Europe, was not explored, however, since the youngest brother was in his late teens by the time the family band went professional.

The Eubanks Brothers had a strong following and evoked pleased reactions from the few accounts that exist from pioneer bluegrass fanatics of the period. Listeners would have been able to hear the group not only at gigs but on radio broadcasts over a variety of stations, including some of the legendary Mexican border recording and broadcasting facilities. The seductive sounding Siloam Springs, AK, was the locale of another of their series of broadcasts over that town's KUOA radio. The latter events earned the group a place in that state's fat grab-bag of musical pioneers, which also includes country & western songwriter Roger Miller and free jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. The association with Arkansas musical history hardly prevents any of the other states from also claiming credit, so it is just easy to come across a mention of this group if the topic is the origin of the bluegrass scene in either Kansas, Missouri, or Oklahoma as well. The extremely busy group would crisscross back and forth on the winding Ozark mountain roads or the first two-lane highway running from Fayetteville, AK, up to Kansas City, MO, sometimes appearing on four or five different radio stations in the same day. At peak, the group was heard on 13 different stations, including XERF out of Del Rio and XEGin Monterey, the primitive stylistic breakthroughs having an unknown effect on the Mexican audience. And, apparently the brothers were able to survive, although not get rich, on purely musical income alone -- a rarity among bluegrass and old-time groups from this era.

Recordings cut for the small Goldenrod label are definitely considered among the first material to come out of this area of the U.S.A. which can be considered to have a hefty proportion of bluegrass content; although some listeners would stop short of considering these recordings full out bluegrass. The group also released material on its own label, Big Sound Inc., again establishing a historic precedent as one of the first bluegrass groups to take control of its own recording affairs. Relationships in which groups sold the products of their releases on small regional labels were quite common, and much similar to the scene with indie rock bands and small labels in the final decades of the same century. The brothers usually recorded their own songs, which also include the superb "Destination Heartache," a good example of the type of progressive old-time music of this period which hints at elements of both the Nashville country sound and bluegrass. In the '60s, however, the brothers apparently were only playing a handful of gigs before giving up music entirely. By the '70s, when Rounder reissued some of the group's recordings on its Early Days of Bluegrass series, Bob Eubanks was working as a truck driver, Marlin Eubanks was retired, and James Eubanks was both working as a railroader and preparing to open a radio station in -- where else? -- Siloam Springs.