The city of Knoxville, TN, with its hopping old-time music and early bluegrass scene of the '50s, made an important contribution to the mighty subgenre of bluegrass "brother" groups with the seemingly tireless efforts of the Brewster Brothers. Various boys from the family made up their surname's investment in the project, beginning with Ray and Will G. Brewster singing and playing guitar and mandolin, respectively. Following the death of Ray Brewster in 1948, younger brother Bud went into music, something banjoists are quite happy about. He and Will G. continued the group and were in the lineups that recorded in the '50s. And if the brother group in bluegrass can be said to be about as common as a hamburger in America, the work of the Brewster Brothers sometimes had more in common with the so-called double burger, as the brothers were fond of getting together to record with other sets of brothers. Records made by the Brewster Brothers & Four Brothers Quartet would seem to suggest a total of six players, as in three sets of brothers, but this is just hillbilly accounting. Actually, these recordings from Tennessee's Acme label -- a company that was apparently sustained financially for years just from the large merchandise orders of its customer Wile E. Coyote -- feature our heroes the Brewster Brothers in conjunction with mandolinist Audie Webster and guitarist Earl Webster, known professionally as the Webster Brothers. Perhaps approaching the musical level that could be reached by a combination of the Monroe Brothers and the Stanley Brothers, these four skilled pickers combined frontman talent in multiplex with the superior instrumental talents of the Brewster Brothers, Willie staring down on his fiddle from behind his often fogged-up glasses and Bud picking banjo as if extracting malachite crystals from the side of a mountain. The Brewster Brothers were also fond of collaborating with the members of the Bailey Brothers group, as well as with country singer Carl Story, who used them to excellent advantage.
The brothers grew up listening to their mother' s piano playing, while an older sister proved that such a creature could be useful for something in a young boy's life by teaching them their first guitar chords. It was 1940 when the older pair set out to conquer the world with their music, picking up an early sponsor in the form of the Knoxville radio station WROL. The group went on to become part of a group of talented Knoxville bluegrass and country acts promoted on the Cas Walker Show, a popular series that had a honking goose effect on the attention-getting capabilities of its artist roster. This meant one thing, really: the Grand Old Opry came a callin'. The group was absorbed into the Happy Valley Boys, the first meeting of the Brewster Brothers and the Bailey Brothers. But when Charles Bailey got drafted and there was no longer a pair of Bailey Brothers, the Brewster Brothers name moved to the front of the marquee and Will G. Brewster switched from fiddle to mandolin. While all this was going on, little Bud Brewster was playing with sticks in the mud, the Appalachian equivalent of a trip to the Toys R Us franchise. His older brothers tended to ignore him when they came home from the Opry for a visit, but the marvelous bassist of the group, Junior Huskey, took an interest in the little chap. In 1948, Ray Brewster died. It took five years until the group was reborn and in the meantime, Will G. worked as a sideman with old friends the Bailey Brothers after having been sliced out of the band of Hack Johnson. The new version of the Brewster Brothers was formed with a lineup that included one sheer genius, banjoist Johnnie Whisnant. This new group began working under the name of the Brewster Brothers & the Smoky Mountain Hillbillies, broadcasting over the Scottsboro, AL, radio station WROS. The group was then doing well enough to jump to a bigger station up the road in Birmingham, followed by a stint back north in Virginia. After that, the association with Cas Walker and this host's Knoxville shows continued for practically two more decades and at times, the busy Brewster Brothers were doing three radio shows and a pair of television slots each day, beginning at 5:30 a.m., and of course they had probably played a late-night show the evening before. Walker was employing more than a dozen bluegrass pickers who sometimes teamed up in various ad hoc combos; the brothers toured with artists such as mandolinist Red Rector and mainstream country star Carl Story throughout the '50s. Both brothers were part of recording teams Story put together for Mercury and Starday sessions, as well as cutting regional sides. At one time, Bud Brewster said they cut more than 300 sides with Story and although quality is high, it could be said to be a trip downhill after the out and out genius of the earliest session in 1957 that produced the classic "Mocking Banjoes." The Acme outfit, which later changed its name to Janet -- perhaps to avoid liability suits at the hands of the aforementioned Wile E. Coyote -- recorded the Brewster Brothers on their own beginning the same year. Some of these tracks represented a kind of melding of bluegrass and country, bringing in the sounds of pedal steel and electric guitar. Sidemen such as bassist Ray Rose and fiddler Jerry Moore continued to collaborate with the brothers over the years. In the '70s, Bud Brewster was a member of a bluegrass band called the Pinnacle Boys with both Rose and Moore. Will G. Brewster retired from music in the late '60s. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi