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Red Cravens

Red Cravens & the Bray Brothers consisted of Red Cravens (guitar, tenor vocals), Nate Bray (mandolin, lead vocals), Hayley Bray (banjo, baritone), and Francis Bray (bass). They were one of the first bluegrass outfits to master the full capabilities of the recording studio in bringing out the full range of their singing and playing. Nate Bray first began building his reputation as a wizard on the mandolin while in high school in Clinton, IL. He began playing with guitarist Red Cravens around 1956, informally in the company of Bill Monroe, with Harley Bray. Where Nate Bray's influence was Bill Monroe, Harley practically slept with his banjo and lived and breathed Earl Scruggs' playing. Later on, Francis Bray picked up the cello, later switched to bass, and an act was formed. The group improvised a great deal, especially with regard to the tuning of their instruments, but they developed a coherent sound and began playing fairly steady gigs, and a knack for adapting non-bluegrass material, including classic pop tunes, to their style. For years they were a fixture on WHOW in Clinton on a show hosted by Uncle Johnny Barton, and they left behind a large body of tapes done for radio. The quartet, whose lineup sometimes expanded to include a fiddle player (John Hartford was one, appearing on some of their recordings), became very skilled at recording themselves in the studio -- they learned the best way to get the cleanest possible sound, and also understood the virtues of singing softly on their recordings, which gave them a lyricism that many other bluegrass outfits of the era lacked. Eventually, they landed a contract (as the Bluegrass Gentlemen) with Liberty Records, for which they recorded a series of instrumental tunes. Ironically, it was the Liberty contract that led to the breakup of the group in the early '60s. Faced with the pressure of becoming a popular recording act and catering to other peoples' tastes, and the pressure of having to produce seriously popular records, the group decided that the original reason for their getting together -- to have fun -- was being threatened, and they stopped working together. All they wanted to do was play square dances, and Liberty wanted them to do much more than that. Bruce Eder

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