Mainer's Mountaineers, with their leader J.E. Mainer on fiddle, were one of the most popular string bands of the 1930s. They formed an important link between old-time string music and bluegrass, and their musical life exemplified several important aspects of the musical culture of the mountain southeast: the importance of the brother duet, the early link between country music and radio advertising, and the prevalence of turn-of-the-century sentimental song in the repertories of 1930s musicians. Mainer was born in Buncombe County, NC, and was raised in the mountains. His first instrument was the banjo, which he played at local square dances. Mainer's music, like that of other southeastern performers, offered an alternative to working in North Carolina's hellish textile mills; Mainer left home for mill work in his mid-teens, landing first in Knoxville, TN, and then in Concord, NC, where he moved in 1922 and lived for the rest of his life. At one point, having turned his banjo over to his brother Wade temporarily, he sold some agricultural seed on commission and drew his pay in the form of a tin fiddle. After he mastered the showpiece "John Henry," he invested in a better instrument. Soon he and Wade had joined with other local musicians to form a band. Mainer's appetite for performing was whetted when he started winning top prizes at fiddle contests.