2: Joe Isaacs & Sacred Bluegrass
Isaacs and his banjo
he was seventeen, Joe left home, traveling across the
state line to Ohio in search of a job.
After he had worked long enough to save some
money, he bought an old guitar and started to learn to
play chords on it. Soon, however, he traded it for a banjo on which he learned
to play bluegrass music.
When he had mastered enough technique, he joined
a bluegrass band led by Larry Sparks.
When Larry left to play with Ralph Stanley's
Clinch Mountain Boys, Joe migrated from one group to
another, finally joining the Greenbriar Boys in New York
Greenbriar Boys were a legendary bluegrass group that
played an important role in bringing bluegrass music to
the mainstream during the folk movement of the early-
of the places where the Greenbriar Boys played was Gerdes Folk
City in New York City, the folk music club where Bob Dylan,
Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Paul and Mary were discovered.
It was there that Joe met his future wife Lily Fishman,
who was also performing at Gerdes.
Lily was a Jewish girl the same age as Joe who had been
born in Germany several years after her parents were released
from five years of imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps.
As almost all of their relatives had been killed during
the holocaust, Lily and her parents soon immigrated to the
United States to settle in New York City.
Lily, being interested in show business, majored in
theatre arts at Queens College where she and a school friend had
formed a folk music duo and recorded an album for Columbia
Records called Lily and Maria.
1969, after living a year and a half in New York City, Joe moved
back to Ohio. The
following year Lily moved to Ohio and she and Joe were married.
In 1970, while attending the funeral of one of Joe's
brothers who had died in a car accident, Lily and Joe had a
powerful spiritual experience while attending a little
Pentecostal church and they both turned their lives over to
had been singing lead with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys,
but in 1970 he joined a group called Larry Sparks and the
Lonesome Ramblers and
he stayed with them for two years.
Joe played on a number of albums, including two with
Larry Sparks. However, in 1972 he began recording with his own group, Joe
Isaacs and the Calvary Mountain Boys.
Joe wanted to devote himself completely to singing and
playing gospel music with his wife Lily, and this began with his
first gospel album Live It Everyday.
In 1974, Joe and Vernon Bowing formed a group called The
Sacred Bluegrass. When Vernon later quit the group, Joe changed the name to Joe
Isaacs and The Sacred Bluegrass.
At first Lily was the only family member in this group,
but soon their three very young children, Ben, Sonya, and
Rebecca ("Becky") joined them.
The group's name was then changed to The Joe Isaacs
Family. When the children finally became a major part of the
group, the name was shorted to just The Isaacs.
sang with his family until the mid-1990s when he began branching
back out on his own. He
started singing frequently with Ralph Stanley, then after over
thirty years on the road, he was divorced from his wife Lily and
moved back to the original Kentucky homeland that he had carried
in his heart all of his life.
He is currently an honorary member of Ralph Stanley's
Clinch Mountain Boys, a member of the Cumberland Highlanders
Band that broadcast a weekly show on the Outdoor cable channel,
and he has also formed his own bluegrass band called the Red
Lick Mountain Band. Joe received special recognition from
President George Bush for his song "Proud of the American
Flag" during the Desert Storm operations.
Joe has performed with most of the great bluegrass
musicians over the years and has written many heartfelt songs
that have been recorded by him as well as others and are
frequently played on bluegrass radio in both the United States
Isaacs is an embodiment of the Southern Appalachian culture.
We'll interview some of Joe's peers Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs,
and Porter Wagoner, and will record live events of Joe playing
with the Cumberland Highlanders Band and his own Red Lick
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