Roy Lee Centers: Age 29 | Cause Of Death: GUNSHOT

(Born Nov.08, 1944, Died May 05, 1974)

Roy Lee Centers sang lead and played rhythm guitar for Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys from early 1970 until his tragic death in 1974. Centers’ tenure is especially memorable in light of the fact that his voice sounded very similar to that of Carter Stanley. Roy Lee helped put Ralph’s new group on a level almost as legendary as the original Stanley Brothers. Born in the heart of feud country’s “BIoody Breathitt” County, Centers grew up in a musically rich area where poverty and violence had become part of the lifestyle. Like many eastern Kentucky youth, Roy Lee moved to southwest Ohio to find employment. He also became part of the local Bluegrass scene, working with Fred Spencer under the name Lee Brothers and for Jack Lynch and the Miami Valley Boys. After Larry Sparks left Ralph Stanley’s band in the fall of 1969, Joe Isaacs filled the spot temporarily until Roy Lee took it on a permanent basis. Later, Centers and his family moved to Breathitt County. The more than four years that Roy Lee Centers spent with the Clinch Mountain Boys coincided with tremendous growth of Bluegrass festivals. Stanley fans accepted the congenial Kentuckian as the nearest humanly possible version of a second Carter Stanley.  The Clinch Mountain Boys also included fiddler Curly Ray Cline, bass player Jack Cooke and for more than a year the youthful duo of Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs. As a result, they gained a large and loyal following on the festival circuit. They also toured Japan, where they received a tremendous welcome. Roy Lee also recorded a great deal with the Clinch Mountain Boys. He sang lead on two albums on Jessup, six on Rebel and another one on King Bluegrass (subsequently reissued on County). A two-album Live In Japan set issued on the Seven Seas label in Japan also later appeared on Rebel. Centers played on Curly Ray Cline’s albums and those of Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, Lee Allen and J.D. Jarvis. Sometimes he played banjo rather than guitar, being equally skilled on both instruments. Given the wide acceptance that Centers received, Bluegrass fans were shocked when they learned that Roy Lee had been fatally shot in one of the shooting altercations that have made his section of Kentucky notorious. The fans were even more shocked when they learned that his killing went virtually unpunished. Centers came to be a revered figure in the Bluegrass world and his childhood friend and fellow musician, Lee Allen, wrote and recorded a tribute song entitled In Memory Of Roy Lee Centers. Vector Records released two albums made largely from live recordings. For a time, Roy Lee’s oldest son, Lennie, worked in the bands of Lee Allen and also of the Goins Brothers.  ~Ivan M. Tribe

“In 1974, Stanley once again found himself picking up the pieces, emotionally and professionally. Roy Lee Centers, his gifted lead singer, was shot and killed by a man who had accused him of having an affair with his wife, an apparently false charge. Stanley had once again lost his right-hand man. Centers was only 29. Exit Centers. Enter Keith Whitley.” ~ Karl Rohr