James Alan Shelton, Longtime Guitarist for Ralph Stanley Passes!

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE  -  JAMES ALAN SHELTONPrescription Bluegrass has heard from two sources that confirm the passing of another of the bluegrass family's beloved.

James Alan Shelton who was a fixture in Ralph Stanley's CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS  has died at age 53. He had been suffering from cancer.

Nathan Stanley, grandson of the banjo pioneer Ralph Stanley posted the news on his social media page saying,

"My heart is very heavy right now... My friend James Alan Shelton passed away just a little while ago. Heaven has gained one of the finest Lead guitar Pickers that ever was. I sure do miss him. Please keep his wife Greta and his family in your prayers. RIP in my friend."

Born in Kingsport, TN and raised on a tobacco farm across the state line near Gate City, Virginia in the Yuma Community of Scott County, Shelton grew up steeped in the music of the Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family, Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe.

As a matter of fact, he was raised within about fifteen miles of the homeplace of A. P. Carter.

At age twelve, his maternal grandfather taught him his first licks on guitar and he also began learning the banjo a year later. Like many young guitar pickers, Shelton had become fascinated by the deceptively complex “cross-picking” guitar style developed by North Carolina native George Shuffler, who worked with the Stanley Brothers in the 1950’s and 60’s.

In contrast to some of his guitar peers who seemingly, at times, view the melody as “marker notes” to squeeze as many notes as possible between, Shelton’s melody oriented playing emphasized his love and respect for the way a tune is supposed to sound. He also strove for a rich, full tone on his guitar. His main performing instruments were a 1946 D-28 Martin herringbone and a custom built “James Alan Shelton” signature series guitar built by Huss & Dalton Guitars in Staunton, Virginia.

Shelton was more than just a guitar player in Stanley's band.  For years he was also the one who handled the band's business affairs.  When the group sought the services of outside booking agencies, Shelton continued as the road manager, and ambassador for the band both at home and abroad.

Shelton had been suffering from cancer and posted an update to his friends early last month saying  that a PET scan revealed a mass in the pancreas and one in the bowels, both of which they were previously unaware. In addition it had also spread to the liver. All were cancerous and in Stage 4.  He also said he was told his life expectancy would be another 18-24 months.

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