This time around, our journey began with a visit to brothers from Boyd County at a brewery in Music City U.S.A.
Once again seeking to document the country-music connection between Nashville and the mountains of Kentucky, musician Eddie Riffe and I launched out under icy conditions. Equipped with little more than a couple of $1 bills and a few notes scribbled on Riffe’s mental checklist, we amused ourselves along the way by spotting roosted birds of prey in trees and on power lines throughout the frozen-rain encased commonwealth Wednesday morning.
Once in Tennessee and with the city skyline ahead, we navigated to Yazoo Brewery to find brothers Adam and Taylor Jones of Cannonsburg. Older brother Adam, 26, explained he was the first to arrive in Nashville, chasing the dream of being a bassist after he graduated from Marshall University in 2008. Along the way, Jones said he just happened to meet Roy Orbison’s wife’s assistant and almost immediately found himself working for the Orbison family.
“Now, I’m director of electronic media and webmaster for royorbison.com,” he said, adding he is also proud to work for an inspired group of people at Nashville’s Yazoo Brewery, where his tasks include designing labels for tap handles. Jones said he still plays “once in a while,” although he now gets his musical rewards from watching his little brother on stage.
“I know I’m super biased as his brother, but he is leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of studio drummers,” he said. “I mainly want to see him go to all the places I wasn’t able to go.”
Taylor Jones, who was among the 2012 graduating class at Boyd County High School, said having a big brother in Nashville made it much easier for him to take a shot at the music business, and he packed his sticks for the road a month after graduation day. Within two weeks he had landed a spot with a band and was riding to shows in a tour bus with the Greg Burroughs Band. When James Wesley of Broken Bow Records recently asked if he knew any good drummers, Jones said he suggested himself, “and now I’m heading to South Dakota next.”
The young drummer said he’s eager to earn his way in the music industry. “I want to ride it for the rest of my life. That’s what I moved down here to do. I would love to just ride this out and see how far I can take it,” he said.
The Jones brothers agreed their fellow musicians from Kentucky have established themselves in every aspect of the country music community.
“It just seems like the talent that’s in our area is more willing to woodshed and work,” Adam said, with Taylor adding, “They don’t expect anything — they just work.”
Despite the obvious temptations of a brewery with multiple taps to keg after keg of free-flowing fresh brews, Riffe and I somehow mustered the discipline to begrudgingly limit our sampling to a single glass. Yazoo Brewery Tap-Room Manager Brandi Soda filled a growler jug (from Ashland’s Continental Liquors) of their Gerst Beer for us to enjoy later that night and another of their “Hop Project” brew for my own amusement. I told Soda that Riffe had a big show Saturday night at the Wheeling Jamboree and she gave him a Yazoo Brewery hat to wear during his performance at the historic West Virginia venue. He promised he would wear it proudly, and I’m sure he will.
Salyers well known
At our next stop, we were greeted by a gigantic pair of crimson birds at the entrance of The Red Rooster while looking for Ashland’s Michael Moore. Before our eyes even had a chance to adjust to the lighting, I heard a familiar name being bandied about at the bar as a pair of new friends discussed their “it’s a small world” connection to Ashland’s Stephen Salyers.
“Stephen Salyers is the Kevin Bacon of Nashville. Everyone knows Stephen in some capacity,” said Michael Kenney, owner of nashvilleuniverse.com.
“You can almost start a conversation with anyone in Nashville by asking if they know Stephen,” he said, before testing his theory by stopping the next guy who walked in. That next guy happened to be Timothy Chance, a musician from Huntington, who confirmed his personal appreciation of Salyers just before he jumped on stage with guitarist John Gambino and whipped the Red Roster crowd into a fit of applause with a high-energy rap vocal over a country boogie beat.
Michael Moore, who was “born and raised an Ashland Tomcat,” said he was there to support his fellow musicians on that evening, although he is otherwise pleased with his own efforts to find a place in the Nashville spotlight. Moore, who beat Salyers to win the WTCR Country Showdown a few years ago, said he is pleased to be working with some of the best names in the business as he pursues his career as a vocalist. Instead of sharing his songs with anyone who might listen, Moore said he’s kept his latest recording “very hush, hush — a huge secret,” although he hopes the album will make a splash when released. Smiling, Moore also confirmed there is no shortage of Kentuckians in Nashville, including an abundance of pickers and singers from the Ashland area.
“I don’t want this to sound cocky or anything but, in our hometown there were always three or four musicians who always stood out and were always told to go to Nashville,” he said, explaining he originally planned to stay in Nashville for a month or so, but quickly fell in love with the city’s musicians, traditions, heritage and history.
“Everything I do down here ... all these great people come from eastern Kentucky — and eastern Tennessee. I would estimate 50 percent of the people I’ve worked with are from back there,” he said, quickly adding his recent respect for acoustic guitarist Tyler Harris of Pikeville.
Mid-Moore interview, Riffe glanced at a clock somewhere, realized we had made a critical timing error and were seconds away from missing our window of opportunity for the evening’s hottest ticket — an evening at the world-famous Bluebird Cafe, where we would experience an up-close encounter with a musician who was the right-hand man for one of the most celebrated country music artists who ever roamed these hills.
Part two of this story will appear in Tuesday’s edition of The Independent.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.