Joseph Emmet (J. E.) and Wade Mainer, two of recorded country music’s first stars, grew up in a log cabin on a farm near Weaverville. Their father was, according to Wade, “a good singer—real stout voice.” J. E. and Wade were also influenced early on by their brother-in-law Roscoe Banks, a left-handed fiddler. The brothers often accompanied Banks and his brother Will when they would play square dances, J. E. fiddling with Roscoe, and Wade playing banjo.
Having worked for a time in a textile mill in Knoxville, in 1922 J. E. went down the mountain to Concord, North Carolina, to work at the Gibson Cotton Mill. Wade soon followed. The mills of the Piedmont were a fertile ground for string band music in those days, and the Mainers began to play for dances, cornshuckings, and other events with their friends Lester and Howard Lay.
In 1934, the Mainers were invited to join the cast of the Crazy Water Crystal Barn Dance on WBT (“Watch Buick Travel”) in Charlotte. After a time, they moved back to Asheville, where they joined up with guitarist Zeke Morris, from Old Fort. In a variety of band configurations, both with and without Wade and Zeke—as J. E. Mainer and his Crazy Mountaineers, and J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers—they recorded dozens of songs and tunes for Bluebird records, many of which are now considered classics of the country brother duet genre. The Mountaineers’ Bluebird career ended at the outbreak of World War II.
In his later years, J. E. Mainer recorded with his sons Glenn and Curley on King Records. He died in 1971. Wade Mainer celebrated his hundredth birthday in 2007, living in Michigan with his wife Julia and performing on occasion. Wade Mainer passed away in September, 2011 at the age of 104.