James Alan Shelton worked since 1994 as bluegrass master Ralph Stanley's lead guitarist in the highly respected Clinch Mountain Boys, and the multi-instrumentalist also released a handful of solo albums, beginning with Blue in the Blue Ridge in 1996. Shelton got the job with the Clinch Mountain Boys three years after he introduced himself to Stanley at a concert and declared that he'd like to work for the bluegrass banjo legend. Stanley invited him to sit in on a few songs, and Shelton was on his way. Although a permanent job didn't open up until 1994, when Clinch Mountain Boys Ernie Thacker and Junior Blankenship were contemplating leaving, Shelton did get to play with the band for a short time in 1992 as a temporary replacement for a vacationing Blankenship.
Shelton, who grew up in Virginia, took up the guitar at the age of 12, with his maternal grandfather as his teacher. At the time, he didn't have a guitar of his own, but he did have a harmonica. Shelton's father helped him earn his first Fender. His dad paid 89.95 dollars for the three-quarter sized model, and Shelton paid back every cent by working on the family's tobacco crop. Before catching a live show in 1973 that featured Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys and Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys, Shelton's exposure to music came from television programs, where he caught the acts of such artists as the Wilburn Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, and Porter Wagoner. At about the age of 13, Shelton took up the banjo, and two years later he became the banjo player for a band called the Bluegrass Travelers. He remained with the band for about 18 months and appeared on one of its albums. A two-year stint as a banjo player for the Larkin Brothers followed.
Shelton went on to devote four years as a dobro and guitar player to an outfit named Flint Hill. After his time with Flint Hill, he took a little detour away from bluegrass and ventured into country music by becoming an electric guitarist for another band. The detour ended in 1985, when he played banjo and mandolin for another bluegrass band, Blue Ridge. After three years with the group, Shelton spent some time in an assortment of non-music jobs, including painting houses and factory work, before he approached Stanley and said he would like to work for him. ~ Linda Seida