Billy Wise and Mountain Time
by Emerald Butler
Billy Wise has listened to bluegrass since he was five years old. Like most, it’s a family thing. The stories of how he met his wife and his chart-topping success seem reminiscent to that of Johnny and June. Deeply intertwined are friends, family, love, and good music. Oh, and a cowboy hat. Like Johnny, Billy feels like he has become a member of a musical family that he grew up listening to and loving from an early age. He has also married his best friend, who helped him pen some of his most successful songs. Billy is extremely grateful, and as he puts it, “very blessed.”
“My dad always had bluegrass jams at his house, and we would also listen to those old
Stanley Brothers Records. I just grew up listening to that probably every day of my life, and it got in my blood. I started playing guitar when I was five, and I wrote my first song when I was 14. I was writing country music then. I wrote my first bluegrass gospel song when I was about 25. I can’t remember what the name of it was now, but even though I was doing country I would always go back to bluegrass music. I never got away from the bluegrass.” Bluegrass isn’t the only thing that has kept Billy coming back.
Billy remembers the bluegrass festival he went to in Summertown, Tennessee in 2009 where he first met his wife Joan.
“It was back in August of 2009 and we sat under a shade tree from about 4:30 P.M. that afternoon to 1:30 A.M. or 2 o’clock the next morning and played only Stanley Brother songs. It just kept getting richer and richer in my blood that night.”
However, after that weekend, Billy and Joan didn’t see each other again for another five years. “On December 21 of 2013, I went to a bluegrass jam in Nashville. My son was with me and when we walked in my son said, ‘Daddy, is that the lady we jammed with all night at Summertown?’ He noticed her right off the bat. I looked up there and sure enough, there she was. She didn’t remember me at first, but I had a black cowboy hat on when I met her for the first time at the festival, and I didn’t have one that night. She said, ‘are you the one that had that black cowboy hat on?’ and I said yep, and then she remembered me.” The couple made sure to exchange phone numbers and keep in touch after that night in December. “In June of 2014 we started dating,” Billy shared, “and then we ended up getting married on March 10th of 2018,” Billy admitted that he no longer has that particular black cowboy hat, but he still keeps another one around.
Billy Wise and Mountain Time have been topping the bluegrass radio charts with Billy’s song “Flying High Like a Butterfly” that his wife Joan co-wrote with him. The couple has also had success with Ralph Stanley II & The Clinch Mountain Boys’ recording of their song “Beautiful Hills of Home.”
“In 2016, when Dr. Ralph Stanley passed away, we went up to his funeral and that was the first time we had ever been to the festival grounds. I told my wife I’d like to come back up to the festival next year. After we got home from his funeral, I started running a song around in my head. In February of 2017, I started writing “Beautiful Hills of Home. I wrote a verse and a chorus, and I got stuck on the second verse, and then she started throwing out ideas to me, and next thing you know we had “Beautiful Hills of Home” written. We went up to the festival next year and Dr. Stanley’s widow, Miss Jimmi, heard it, and she wanted us to get up on the stage with Ralph II & the Clinch Mountain Boys and sing it. We did. I was hoping someone would pick it up and record it, but nothing happened that year.”
A year later, the couple went back to the festival, and Ralph II told them that he was ready to record the song. “Next thing you know,” Billy starts, “he’s got it recorded on his new gospel CD and it went #1 three times. It was on the top 10 charts for 41 weeks in Bluegrass today, and it was on the top 12 charts on the Bluegrass Jamboree with David Pugh for 52 consecutive weeks.”
Getting to know the Stanley family, and having Ralph II record one of his songs is a dream come true for Billy and his wife. “I always dreamed of doing it, but I never thought it would be a reality. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it’s really happening. I grew up idolizing that family. Also having people that support me; they’ll never know how much it means to me.”