The Chestnut Grove Quartet-part two by Joe Wilson
This article originally appeared in the July 1996 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine; other portions of the article appear in other volumes in this CD series.
They performed at home and at school functions in the Moccasin Gap community in Washington County, Va. In 1937 they began performing on Saturday matinee "jamboree" programs on radio station WOPI in Bristol. Bill played guitar, Danny the banjo, and Archie the harmonica.
They had their own style, but Bill recalls they loved songs by the Blue Sky Boys and by Wade Mainer and Zeke Morris and sometimes learned them. But any good song was fair game. they knew some old ballads. They learned Gene Autry's "Silver Haired Daddy." Their announcer was Ernie Ford, later famous as "Tennessee Ernie Ford."
Older brother Jim was usually the lead singer and Bill always owned a soaring tenor with an emotional edge. It is a quality that is often called having "heart " in these parts.
But even as a string band most of their songs were religious. They attended the Chestnut Grove Methodist Church in their community. Built in 1890, the church was then a wood frame structure, painted white, without a steeple, and on a gravel road like hundreds of others in the rural south. There was no piano or organ; music there was created only by the human voice.
It was at Chestnut Grove that Bill, Jim and Archie met and became close friends with Gale Webb, the fourth member of the original quartet, while they were all very young. Gale's dad was Ed Webb, a singer who knew shape notes and was respected for his vocal powers. The Webb family lived in the Brumley Gap section of Washington County, six miles from Moccasin Gap.
The Chestnut Grove Quartet originated from the Chestnut Grove Methodist Church at Holston, Virginia, of which three of the group are members. At one time all four singers in the group were members of this Church.
About six years ago the Baritone singer, Archie Reynolds, was called away to sing in God's Chorus. This was a great shock to the group and their singing was limited for some time due to the loss of their baritone singer.
At this time the group had a Gospel Song program on Radio Station WBBI in Abingdon each Sunday morning. The Trio carried on the Broadcast for some time but decided to give it up after about a year.
During the many months following the group tried to reorganize using several different baritone singers. Nothing seemed to work out until they met their present baritone, Ray G. Roe of Chilhowie, Va. Ray has been with the Quartet for several years now and has helped to continue on singing for the Glory of God.
The Quartet is dedicated to singing Gospel Songs and they have traveled thousands of miles in several different states trying to continue the work of the Lord. The Quartet has seen the wonderful works of God many times during their singing-people shouting and praising God and sinners saved by God's Grace. This is what gives the group strength and courage to carry on.
The Quartet presently has a radio broadcast each Sunday afternoon at Radio Station WBBI in Abingdon, Va. from 2:00 to 2:30 P.M. The Broadcast is supported by the people and the Quartet itself. They use the money from the sale of their song books and albums to help carry on the broadcast. They have never sung for money but have been wonderfully supported by the people of the five state area with their freewill offerings.
Presently the Chestnut Grove Quartet consists of Ray G. Roe, Baritone, James M. Nunley, Lead, Gale B. Webb, Baritone, William M. Nunley, Tenor. Ray has been a life long resident of Smyth County living near Chilhowie, Virginia with his wife and son.
Jim and Bill presently live at Holston, Virginia where they were born. Jim is married and has two sons.
Bill also is married and has three sons and two daughters. Gale lived at Holston most of his life but recently moved to Tazewell, Virginia where he resides with his wife and four sons.
For appointments, records or songbooks, contact any member of the Quartet or write to Radio Station WBBI in Abingdon, Virginia.
4536 Andover Court
Roanoke, VA 24018
CD reissue executive producer: William Hunter
CD reissue produced for Epecho Music by Gary B. Reid
Recorded at: Arthur Smith Studios-Charlotte, North Carolina
Transfer of music from original LP by Christopher King
Audio restoration and digital mastering by: Tom Ohmsen-Flat 5 Press & Recording-Salem, Virginia
Special thanks to Bill and Ann Nunley for their cooperation and assistance with this CD reissue