By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Back in the day, The Pine Ridge Boys were at the cutting edge of modern technology. It was the 1950s, when channel 9 in Tupelo ran a contest, and The Pine Ridge Boys won a television show.
“We called it a hillbilly band then,” said Bryan Sparks, an 81-year-old Belmont resident and mandolin player.
“We were on one night a week,” said Dobro and guitar player Nolan Wells, 72, of Golden. “We were live.”
The station’s signal carried to parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and beyond, and thousands of pieces of mail reached them in Tupelo.
“The reason we quit channel 9 is Martha White wanted to put us on the road,” Sparks said. “We weren’t quite ready for that.”
Band members had jobs and families. The charms of the open road weren’t nearly enough to pull them away.
Flash forward more than 60 years, and you’ll find The Pine Ridge Boys once again at the forefront of technology. Now known as Lisa Lambert and The Pine Ridge Boys, the group is on Twitter, Facebook and youtube.com, and downloads are available at Amazon, Rhapsody and Jango.
“We’re high-tech rednecks,” said Lambert, a Dennis resident who sings and plays guitar and fiddle. She also handles the band’s Internet interests.
If you’re looking for a live experience, the group performs at churches, festivals and schools. During concerts, the men wear black vests, and Lambert wears a red one.
“She’s the show-off,” Wells said.
“She wears a different vest so they know she’s a girl,” said Bobby Dennis, a 79-year-old from Iuka who plays upright bass.
Every other week, the band plays at the American Legion in Iuka. The group also makes regular appearances at Northeast Mississippi Bluegrass Association shows in the old Booneville Hardware Building.
“We play music and have a good time together,” Lambert said.
“And eat,” Wells said.
“And eat well,” added Lynn Grissom, a 61-year-old banjo player from Red Bay, Ala.
“They pay us some, but they always feed us,” said Dennis resident Scott Nunley, 61, who plays mandolin and harmonica, and also drives the van.
“That’s what got us in the shape we’re in,” Lambert said, patting her belly.
The second incarnation of The Pine Ridge Boys has been making music together since 2007.
“It’s been a heck of a ride,” Wells said.
“We try to practice once a week, usually on Thursday,” Nunley said. “We like to play every Friday and Saturday. We have probably done 250 songs on stage.”
“Not at the same time,” Lambert clarified.
You’re getting a sense of these people, right? Lambert already explained their basic philosophy: “We like to have a good time.”
In the 1950s, The Pine Ridge Boys saw how life on the road could become a grind. Making music shouldn’t be work.
“We have a lot of fun wherever we go,” Sparks said. “People pick up on it. If they see you having fun, they have fun, too.”
The members share singing duties. If pressed, they’d admit to being a bluegrass band, but they like to slip straight-up blues into the mix, as well as old-time country and gospel.
“Really, we call it hillbilly blues,” Lambert said.
For the most part, they play cover tunes, but Lambert has written original songs for the band. They also play songs by the late Buford Wells, a founding member of The Pine Ridge Boys and Nolan Wells’ older brother.
“We do a variety of music,” Sparks said. “If you do the same old songs, you’re going to wear the crowd out.”
Speaking of crowds, Grissom has become a favorite at shows, but fans don’t know him by his real name. As Homer Hoehandle, the son of Mr. Axhandle and Mrs. Broomhandle, Grissom delivers comedy and novelty songs. One of his offerings celebrates the joy of having a “Snuff Dipper” as a girlfriend.
“He has an alternate personality,” Lambert said. “He said, ‘I don’t sing,’ but we found out later that, like the rest of this group, he’s crazy.”
“What I’m hoping for someday is Homer Hoehandle and The Pine Ridge Boys,” Grissom said.
Right about now, the word “serious” might not be jumping to mind, but don’t be fooled. The band members are dedicated to making good music to go along with their good fun.
The Mississippi Arts Commission agrees. Lisa Lambert and The Pine Ridge Boys were selected to MAC’s Artist Roster program.
With help from MAC grants, the group visits schools throughout the region to teach kids about the music they play. It’s a one-hour class with a 20-minute concert.
“The highlight of the thing is when you put an instrument in a kid’s hands,” Sparks said.
“Their eyes get really big,” Dennis said.
“We put the instruments out and let them play around,” Lambert said. “It’s a musical petting zoo.”
If an instrument clicks with one of the kids, a member of The Pine Ridge Boys will gladly help them learn more. Over the years, Sparks has taught several other mandolin players.
“When I was a kid, nobody wanted to show you nothing,” Sparks said. “I said if I ever lived to be in a position to help a kid, I would. I’m glad I have.”
“This band is unusual,” Lambert said.
“You can say that again,” Grissom said.
“We’re not selfish,” Sparks said.
“That’s it,” Lambert said.
“I have two musicians who want to get on the waiting list for the band,” Dennis said. “They said they’ve never played in a band where everyone works to make everybody else sound good.”
“It’s a great thing when each member does well and everybody is happy,” Lambert said. “It’s not always like that.”
“Bryan (Sparks) set the example for the rest of us,” Nunley said.
“We never put nobody down,” Sparks said.
“Y’all did me,” Nolan protested.
“That’s different,” Dennis said.
With that, Lisa Lambert and The Pine Ridge Boys erupted in laughter. If fun doesn’t follow the band members around, they’ll find some or make their own. Life’s too short to do it any other way.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.