He is currently a member of the Dynaflows and Big Four Combo but when you piece together his history, you ask yourself, “why has he not received more recognition?” Joe is a cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, and he started playing the clubs in the ’50s. He was one of the handfuls that would cross the color line to play with the black musicians around 14th and U Streets. He was an original member of the Rainbows with Marvin Gaye, Don Covay, and Billy Stewart. Joe could go from playing one night with Link Wray the next night with Roy Clark, and the next the Orioles, touring regularly with all of them.

He had his own band, The Saxtons, that backed Big Joe Turner, Sam Cooke, Little Anthony, The Ames Brothers, Lloyd Price, The Drifters, Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Jackie Wilson, Dion & the Belmonts, Freddie Cannon, and many, many others. The Saxtons would alternate sets on a double bill with Jimmy Dean, his band providing the rock & roll as a counter to Jimmy’s country. He joined Roy Clark’s band for a couple of tours and played the Arthur Godfrey show with him. He was in Dale Hawkins’ band with Roy Buchanan. He and Roy left Dale at the same time, and Roy became a member of The Saxtons. In the early ’60s, Joe became a member of the Bill Black Combo and lead the band when Bill Black died.

Joe had a standing invitation from David Bartholomew to come to join in when Fats Domino would come to town. Joe Stanley helped Danny Gatton get his first gigs and was part of Danny and the Fat Boys and the two of them were in Robert Gordon’s band. Joe has one CD, “King of the Honky-Tonk Sax” on Mapleshade and is featured on cuts from “The Blues You Would Just Hate To Lose” Volumes I & II.


A player who favored a subtle, traditional approach to his music, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Bill Harrell remained one of bluegrass’ most popular figures for several decades. Born in Marion, Virginia on September 14, 1934, Harrell’s passion for music began during his childhood, when he started playing guitar and taking piano lessons. While attending college in Maryland, he first became enamored with bluegrass and began playing mandolin in a trio. Tenures in other Washington, D.C.-area groups followed as he played with musicians like Eddie Adcock, Donny Bryant, Smiley Hobbs, Smitty Irvin, Carl Nelson, and Roy Self.

In 1960, he formed the Virginians with Irvin on banjo, Buck Ryan on fiddle, and Stoney Edwards on bass. The group released the album “The Wonderful World of Bluegrass Music” in 1963 and followed it two years later with “Ballads and Bluegrass.” In addition to hosting a weekly television program from Harrisonburg, Virginia, the group played dates up to and down the East Coast and guested frequently on Jimmy Dean’s network series.

Over the last 40 years, Bill Harrell and the Virginians have appeared on The Grand Old Opry, WWVA’s Jamboree, and The Today Show. They have also performed in most major Bluegrass festivals since the beginning of Bluegrass festivals as well as Presidential concerts for Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan and special performance for the members of the United Nations. He has recorded over 40 albums on major labels such as United Artists, Monument, King, Starday, and currently, Rebel Records, with Bill writing hundreds of songs.

In 1995, Bill Harrell and the Virginians were voted into the Virginia Country, Bluegrass, and Folk Music Hall of Fame.


Content courtesy of Washington Area Music Association.