SPRING LAKE — Melvin Goins is unabashedly old school when it comes to playing bluegrass music.
He's set in his ways, he says. He doesn't want to sound like anybody else. But for fans looking for the real thing, the 75-year-old guitarist and singer is happy to deliver.
When it comes to traditional-style bluegrass, pundits agree that few do the music justice like Goins, whose soulful baritone voice has graced dozens of albums. In a career that has spanned more than 60 years, he has earned dozens of accolades. But perhaps the greatest tip of the hat came in September when the International Bluegrass Music Association inducted him, as well as his late brother, Ray, into its Hall Of Fame.
For Goins, who will headline today at the Sertoma Youth Ranch's Thanksgiving Weekend Bluegrass Festival, it was the highest of honors.
"You don't ever expect something like that," the affable Goins said earlier this week from his home in Catlettsburg, Ky. "You do your best and hope that the people like what you do. I guess if you hang around long enough, that counts for something."
Goins, who grew in rural West Virginia, first discovered bluegrass by way of daily live radio broadcasts on WCYB out of Bristol, Tenn., that featured the likes of the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Curly King and others. He was mesmerized by the sound of the five-string banjo and wanted to learn to play, so he worked out a trade with a neighbor who swapped Goins an old banjo for some chickens.
"It was a good deal … for me," Goins said with a laugh. "I'm not so sure about his end."
Goins, however, never learned the instrument very well because it fell into the hands of his younger brother, Ray. So Goins got himself a guitar, and the two set out on a musical odyssey that wound through six decades.
In 1952, Ray Goins joined the popular Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Melvin Goins joined a year later. For the men who had until then supported themselves through hard-labor jobs, playing music for a living was a breeze. In addition to their daily radio broadcast in Detroit, the Fiddlers played five nights a week at movie theaters in the area. Crowds were big, and the band's recordings for RCA Victor sold well.
But with growing families to feed, the brothers decided they had to move on. Ray Goins returned to West Virginia to work in coal mines and at a furniture factory, playing music only on weekends. Melvin Goins went on to join the Stanley Brothers for a time as the band's bass player and manager.
"Music can be hard on you," Goins said. "That's why so many give it up. But if you love it and stick with it, it can be a good thing. You meet a lot of good people along the way."
In 1969, the Goins Brothers reunited, this time to form their own act. Both had become worthy songwriters, and through the years their band attracted talented up-and-coming musicians eager to make their mark in the business, including future bluegrass stars Dave Evans, Charlie Sizemore, Glen Duncan and Jason Carter.
The Goins Brothers were still going strong in 1994 and were popular on the bluegrass festival circuit when Ray suffered a major heart attack. Although he officially retired in 1999, Ray continued to perform with the band on occasion until his death in 2007.
With his band, Windy Mountain (named for the signature song of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers), Melvin Goins continues the musical path he set out on as a young man. He stays busy. In addition to performing, he helps produce a couple of summer bluegrass festivals near his Kentucky home. He also hosts a weekly bluegrass radio broadcast, a job he became familiar with in his younger days.
Goins said that although he enjoys listening to a lot of the younger bands, he wishes more would work on developing distinctive styles of their own.
"The greats like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and Reno and Smiley, they had a sound you recognize the moment you heard them," he said. "I've always tried to do that with my music. That's what the people want."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.