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Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

Presented by Arts Center of Cannon County at Arts Center of Cannon County, Woodbury TN

Apr 18 2015
Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

From the pastoral hills, hollers, shopping malls and interstate highways of Goodlettsville Tennessee, home of Bill Monroe, Bashful Brother Oswald, Stringbean, Grandpa Jones, Keith Whitley and some living country music performers, comes the most entertaining “blast from the past” since Lester Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys. They’re the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band – five guys and a scrubboard, with roots like wisdom teeth.

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band have shamelessly stolen a feature of the old Roy Acuff Show – a bit known as “Pap & the Jug Band”. There’s only so many graveyard numbers or raunchy love songs that even the most rabid country audience can sit through without some kind of relief. This frolicking fivesome brightens up the stage with rib-tickling old time tunes. Even better, they have an utter lack of self-consciousness (and some might say any sense of decorum). The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band not only know the music, they wear the costumes, tell corny jokes and even do slapstick gags that throw a cable-tv-numbed audience into hysterics. Grown women have lost control of internal organs when the Jug Band entertains … tears a’ runnin’ down both legs!!
“Lonesome” Lester Armistead is a shy and retiring retired printer now raising grandchildren on his farm in the Luton‘s District of middle Tennessee. He rarely speaks above a whisper until he uncorks his jug, gets a whiff of greasepaint and footlights, and releases his Force Five tenor voice in song. Lester and his late brother Jack performed extensively in Tennessee’s Davidson County environs as a country duet years ago. They grew up around the Acuff’s Smoky Mt. Boys, as their dad co-owned a bait store with Acuff’s fiddler Howdy Forrester. Lester learned to sing from Bashful Brother Oswald — on this all music scholars agree. When Lester sings, Oswald lives. Lester blows a jug that Os played on the Opry as long ago as 1939. Lester also picks a mean banjo. Mostly, Lester likes to laugh. When Marty Stuart asks, “Lester, how’s your jug?”, the invariable answer is ” ’bout half…”.

As Roy Rogers was to the Sons of the Pioneers, so Leroy Troy – “The Tennessee Slicker” is to the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Leroy has the “star power”, having performed his astounding old time banjo act since the 1980’s at the Knoxville World’s Fair, in the cast of “Hee Haw”, on many recordings, on the high seas, at concerts and festivals all over this country and lately even in Ireland. He’s a past Champion and Grand Marshal from Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro Tennessee. Leroy gives all credit to old time Opry stars the Bailes Brothers, who taught him show business. Leroy sings the lead on old tunes like Charmin’ Betsy, and besides banjo he also plays an elaborately outfitted scrubboard, after the fashion of long-ago Opry star Robert Lunn who played the scrubboard in Acuff’s show. Leroy has the Three T’s, tone, taste and timing. Not every wannabee knows the proper time to put in the duck call vs. the bicycle bell. Leroy’s grin and eyes are hypnotic – he connects with an audience. Just try to look away. Actually, don’t do that, he’ll point you out to the rest of the audience and ask what‘s wrong with you.

Bass fiddle man “Sir Cecil” Ernie Sykes is the world-weary member of the Jug Band. He’s seen it all, three times. He plays a mean bass fiddle and sings powerful country songs in his deep baritone. He’s spent most of his life entertaining folks with his crooning style vocals and incredibly tasteful bass playing. He has been a fixture in the bluegrass circuit performing in bands with Don Reno, The Sidemen, Bill Monroe just to name a few. Ernie doesn’t like to name drop, he said that Paul McCartney told him once that it wasn’t cool to do it. There’s no end to his talent, and some wonder if there is any beginning. In addition to his many talents he has single handedly (pun intended) brought back to life the hand trumpet in addition to making it cool to play the ukulele on stage again.

The tall, handsome young man providing most of the actual music with his fiddle is the sophisticated (he was born in Pennsylvania)Dan Kelly. Even if you can’t recognize a fiddle, or real music, you can tell Dan by his snazzy clothes — As a mere stripling youth, Dan won hundreds of fiddle contests and was a six-state champion — he even won the Canadian National Open championship at age 12! Which may say a lot about the quality of Canada’s fiddlers. In 1983 Dan took home the big prize when he won the coveted Grand Masters Fiddle championship in Nashville against REAL competition. After fiddler Big Howdy Forrester’s passing, Roy Acuff hired young Dan to be the Smoky Mt. Boys’ fiddler, and Dan worked with The King of Country Music until his death in 1992. Dan can really play those beautiful and tricky Howdy Forrester pieces! Now Dan is a real polite fellow, but he WILL tell you some choice stories about the shenanigans in the old Smoky Mt. Boys!! Since Acuff’s passing, Dan has fiddled his way through a number of top country bands including those of Pam Tillis, Steve Wariner, James Bonamy, Faith Hill, Jessica Simpson and SheDaisy. Poor guy, can’t hold a job. Since 2002 he’s been featured on fiddle and mandolin with Alan Jackson’s band The Strayhorns and Clint Black. Dan hopes to finally break into the “big time” with the Jug Band.

Mike “Spider Man” Webb is the latest member of the group. He brings a whole new element to the Jug band in the ways of comedy, dancing, singing, guitar picking and playing the sweet sounds of hillbilly music on his Dobro ™ in the styling of Bashful Brother Oswald. When Mike isn’t out touring with the Jug Band or fighting crime in the big city, you can find him in the sleepy town of Hohenwald, Tennessee swapping knives, training squirrels to do tricks, cutting hair, writing real country songs or wandering aimlessly along the Natchez Trace. Mike is always into something.

If the Jug Band can be said to have a brain, that would be guitar man and booking agent Mike Armistead, Lester’s son and heir. Mike shares lead singing duties with Leroy, sings harmony in the trios, books the band, engages sidemen to play Dobro ™ or whatever, runs the mercantile empire of their recordings, hoss trades in knives, dogs and guitars, and is the Jug Band’s tenuous contact with the twenty-first century. Like his dad, Mike has a taste for strong tenor singing and loves the repertoire of Bashful Brother Oswald and Ira Louvin. Mike is the wheeler-dealer of the outfit, with contacts throughout the entertainment bidness. He’s a graduate of the very first International Bluegrass Music Association Leadership School, if you‘re a student of “faint praise”. He also serves the citizenry of Nashville with the Fire Dept. While Lester and Leroy are the obvious cut-ups on stage, Mike and Spider Man are the two schemers ready to bring anything into the show that will entertain. Mike and Spider Man can smell any kind of entertainment that makes money.

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band has released CD’s “Barnyard Frolic”, “Poor Leroy’s Almanack”, “Screams From The Holler” and “Tales From Short Mountain” all of which can be downloaded from iTunes or ordered from Ernest Tubb’s record shop.They can be heard on the sound track of Faye Dunaway’s movie “Yellowbird”. They provided the entertainment for the society wedding of Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie a little while ago – you see how well that turned out. They played a New Year’s Eve at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and nearly brought the house down. They perform concerts all over the south, for bluegrass festivals as far away as Bean Blossom, Indiana and even the State of Maine, and at the famous Carter Family Fold in Hiltons Virginia. Toured Europe. They’ve performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (our nation’s capitol). They’ve been on the Grand Ole Opry stage over a dozen times, and in spite of their wild antics, they get invited back!

Hot picking, powerful harmony singing and riotous hijinks that will perk you up between the “hot young country” acts — that’s the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, and thank God for them.


$13/Seniors and Students

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Arts Center of Cannon County

1424 John Bragg Highway, Woodbury, TN 37190

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