The Country Boys have stayed true to their roots, performing the traditional bluegrass and gospel songs that still appeal to their loyal fan base, according to band member Johnny Joyce.
The group will headline the Patrick County Music Association’s Aug. 19 event at Rotary Field in Stuart.
Denny Alley, PCMA organizer, said The Country Boys are “the longest running group in Patrick County. I’ve never known of a bluegrass band, or any kind of band, to last that long.”
Joyce is nearing 43 years as a band member, after starting with the Snowy Mountain Boys in 1968. He said his brother – and fellow band member – died in an auto accident in 1971. Joyce then performed briefly with the Blue Ridge Cut Ups before joining the County Boys in 1974.
But the group formed before then, Joyce said, and explained that Donald Clifton, of the Red Brush area of Surry County, N.C., started the group.
“We’ve had several fiddle and mandolin players; not too many banjo players, but a few,” Joyce said, and noted that Sammy Shelor once played with the group.
He said he was not surprised that Shelor went on to win numerous awards, including the IBMA Award for Banjo Performer of the Year five times.
“He had a talent that was overflowing. An exceptional talent,” Joyce said of Shelor.
Also during the years, some band members have transitioned to other instruments, Joyce said.
For instance, Clifton generally played guitar, but after a family member left the band, Joyce said Clifton played the bass.
“He played the bass for a number of years, but he never was really crazy about it,” Joyce said of Clifton. As time went on, Joyce said Clifton drifted away from playing the bass.
Joyce’s nephew, Doug Joyce, now plays the instrument, and Clifton is back to playing guitar, along with Joyce.
Other members include Tim Bowman on banjo, Billy Hawks on fiddle, and Marsha Todd on mandolin, Joyce said, and added Todd performs with the group when her travel schedule allows. She also is a member of the Slate Mountain Ramblers.
Regardless of the changes in members, the music remains the same, Joyce said, and added that is because he and Clifton “always see eye-to-eye on the kind of music we want to play. Where a lot of bands progress and go to other kinds, we just kind of stayed the same. We just stayed with the traditional bluegrass style.”
Their fan base is loyal, Joyce said.
“We are blessed with support” from their listeners, he said. “It’s a lot easier to quit if it wasn’t for your supporters, and our families have been very supportive too. I guess we probably run them crazy” with the hectic travel schedule, Joyce said, chuckling.
The last 15 to 20 years, Joyce said the group averaged playing four times per month.
“That’s not to say it’s four times every month,” he said, and added that was an average, because sometimes the group may play multiple engagements on a Saturday, for example.
“We mostly play in a four or five county area in the region,” Joyce said of areas adjacent to Patrick and Surry counties. “Once in a while, we may get out of the region, but we mainly play here … around home.”