During the 1950s and 1960s, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis -- "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music" -- ranked as one of show business' most successful husband-and-wife duos, thanks largely to Joe's distinctive, highly influential brand of guitar picking. While Otis Wilson Maphis was born on May 12, 1921, in Suffolk, VA, Rose Lee Schetrompf was born over a year later on December 29, 1922, in Baltimore, MD. Both became active in music at a young age: after playing guitar in a group with his family's group, the Railsplitters, at local square dances, in 1938 Joe became a full-time musician, and not long after joined Sunshine Sue (Workman)'s backing outfit, the Rangers, in Cincinnati, OH. With the group, he began to perfect his unique approach to playing, which favored hyperkinetic finger-picked melody lines over more basic chord accompaniment. Rose Lee, meanwhile, began singing on local radio in Hagerstown, VA, at the age of 15 as a member of the girl group the Saddle Sweethearts and soon graduated to appearances in large markets like Baltimore and St. Louis.
After serving in World War II, Joe returned to Virginia, where he briefly joined Sunshine Sue's radio jamboree, The Old Dominion Barn Dance, which also featured young singer Rose Lee Schetrompf. However, Maphis soon departed for Chicago; when he came back to Virginia in 1947, he took up the electric guitar and rejoined the radio program. He and Rose Lee soon began performing together on the air and on the road; however, in 1951 Merle Travis convinced Joe to move to California to work in television, and only after Rose followed a year later did the couple finally wed. In 1953, the duo cut their first sides, among them the self-penned "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)," which has since become a honky tonk standard.
Throughout the decade, "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music" (as they were dubbed) remained staples of the West Coast scene, and even as Rose turned her attentions to raising a family, Joe continued performing both as both a solo instrumentalist and a highly regarded session musician. In 1954, he became one of the very first performers to play a double-necked guitar by adopting the Mos-Rite Special, an instrument he helped design. Through his work on solo records like 1957 Fire on the Strings and on sessions for other country stars as well as rockers like Ricky Nelson and vocal groups such as the Four Preps, Maphis earned another nickname, "the King of Strings." In addition to a number of duets with his young protégé Larry Collins (of the Collins Kids), Joe also released a tenor banjo record, Hi-Fi Holiday for Banjo, in 1959. Two years later, Rose Lee followed with a self-titled solo collection of country standards.
In 1962, the couple joined with the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys for Rose Lee & Joe Maphis, an album of bluegrass duets; later in the year, Joe released another solo effort, King of the Strings. Two years later, he and Merle Travis teamed for a record of guitar duets, followed shortly by another collaboration with Rose titled Mr. and Mrs. Country Music along with another solo outing, Hootenanny Star. In addition to a lucrative side career composing theme music for television programs, Joe released the solo offerings Golden Gospel in 1966 and New Sound of Joe Maphis a year later.
The Maphis family moved to Nashville in 1968, and largely dropped out of music for a few years until Joe and the couple's eldest son, Jody, released the LP Guitaration Gap in 1971. Six years later, Joe released the solo Grass 'n' Jazz and was joined by Rose in 1978 for Dim Lights, Thick Smoke. Two more albums -- 1979's Boogie Woogie Flattop Guitar Pickin' Man and 1980's Honky Tonk Cowboy -- followed. In 1986, Maphis succumbed to lung cancer; as a result, Rose Lee left performing to work as a costumer at Opryland. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi