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Cowboys, Bo Henry band cook up turkey treat

Special photo/Kaila Bruner
From left, guitarist Brandon Fox, bassist Terry Stubbs and guitarist/vocalist Bo Henry are among the core members of the Bo Henry Band collective, which will play the late slot at Wednesday’s Turkey Jam at the downtown State Theatre.

Special photo/Kaila Bruner From left, guitarist Brandon Fox, bassist Terry Stubbs and guitarist/vocalist Bo Henry are among the core members of the Bo Henry Band collective, which will play the late slot at Wednesday’s Turkey Jam at the downtown State Theatre.

— When country stars Luke Bryan and Dallas Davidson opted out of their annual Thanksgiving Eve Turkey Jam performance at Albany’s State Theatre this year, the void was filled quickly by two of the region’s most celebrated bands.

The Kinchafoonee Cowboys and the Bo Henry Band, who are celebrating their 20th and 15th years together, respectively, will co-headline the show that Bryan has enjoyed with the home folks for the past seven years and Davidson the past six.

Joining the Cowboys and BHB for Wednesday’s show will be Cody Smith of Highway 55 and Cole Taylor.

“Of course everyone is disappointed that Luke and Dallas aren’t going to be a part of Turkey Jam this year, but I’m sure everyone understands where they’re coming from,” Henry, who also manages the State, said. “They’ve both been all over the place — touring, working with other artists, doing appearances — and they want to spend some time with their families. You have to respect that.

“I think we’re going to have a great crowd come out. The Kinchafoonee Cowboys have been together 20 years, and we’ve been playing for 15. Cole and Cody play good, solid music, and I think all of us have people who’ll want to get together and hear us play. I promise you we’re going to have a blast.”

Doors at the State will open Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets, which are $15 are available at Blush, Harvest Moon, Moe’s and Backwoods Outdoors. Tickets will be $20 at the door or $15 with the donation of a kids toy for Toys for Tots.

The Kinchafoonee Cowboys sprang from the local rock band Fundamentals, which featured singer Glenn Tennyson, drummer Keith Cromartie and guitarist Brad Halford. But the Cowboys might never have existed had Tennyson not gone partying in Nashville and, on a whim, bought a cowboy hat.

“Fundamentals was playing a KA party at Georgia Tech, doing our rock show ... REM, Smithereens, stuff like that,” Tennyson said. “We’d listened to a little bit of the new country music that was out and we liked Clint Black’s song ‘Killing Time.’ We’d messed around with it a bit, but we hadn’t really worked on it all the way through.

“We were in the middle of that KA party, and on a whim I told the guys ‘Let’s play “Killing Time”.’ I put on the cowboy had I’d bought in Nashville, and we did the song. That crowd blew the roof off the place. I told Cromartie, ‘I think we’re on to something’ and then ‘I think we just became a country band’.”

Tennyson, home from college for Thanksgiving break, heard Shane Cannon playing harmonica in the parking lot of the old Jungle Jim’s nightclub in Albany, and Cannon agreed to get together with Tennyson and his band. Cannon came on board, and Chad McGrath was recruited to play bass.

During the Christmas season of 1991, the newly named Kinchafoonee Cowboys played their first show together at a pecan orchard in Terrell County.

“From there, things escalated,” Tennyson said.

Halford, McGrath, Cromartie and Cannon were students at the University of Georgia at the time, while Tennyson was the odd man out at Georgia Tech. But the group made it work, and they rapidly became one of the most in-demand bands in the region.

But it was a patio party that the Cowboys played at an Athens apartment complex that made them fixtures among music fans in the city.

“A friend asked us to play on his patio for a party he was having,” Tennyson said. “After two songs, the police came and shut us down. But Brad went inside and called the owner of (nightclub) Hoyt Street Station. He told the guy we had 100 people at a party that had been shut down and asked if we could play there if we brought the crowd with us.

“The guy told us to come on, and we looked like ‘Sanford and Son’ getting everything loaded on a pickup to take to the club. We showed up and got everything set up in about 15 minutes. We packed the house that night, and soon after that started playing there every Thursday night. I’d drive over from Tech for the shows some nights, and when I came up there would be lines around the block waiting to get in.”

The Cowboys’ success at Hoyt Street got them noticed by the management of the Georgia Theatre, and they soon were regularly packing that famed venue. In fact, the band holds the record for the most sold-out shows at the Theatre and the highest bar sales from 1992 through 2009. The Cowboys played their last show at the old Georgia Theatre in May of 2009, one month before a fire devastated the venue.

Their first show at the newly renovated Theatre on 11-11-11 drew a sell-out crown of 1,100.

In the summer of ‘92, the Cowboys released their first album, “Sowega,” and they followed it up in 1994 with the critically acclaimed “Deep Dark Water.” It was about that time that the band had to make a decision about its future.

“We had to choose whether to stay regional or to try and take what we were doing to the next level,” Tennyson said. “We’d played with a lot of the big artists of the day — Diamond Rio, Martina McBride, Billy Ray Cyrus and in front of 22,000 people with the Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic at the Super Jam in Athens — but we knew that to make it beyond the region we’d have to make a level of commitment that I’m not sure we were ready to make.

“Brad really wanted us to give it a shot, but I just don’t think we were ready for that step. There are times now during a bad week when I wish I was on a tour bus headed to a show, but I don’t really think we made the wrong choice. I’ve always done this for the music, so if I go out and play a sold-out show at the Georgia Theater or somewhere like that, I get my fix. I’m happy to leave a show and be at my own home on Sunday.”

The Cowboys released the album “Kinchafoonee” in 1998 and gave fans an opportunity to relive one of their live shows with “Live at the Georgia Theatre,” which they released in 2005. Chris Scarborough replaced Halford in 1998, and the band added keyboard player Jason Fuller a short time later. Cromartie “retired” last fall, and Adam Funk was brought in to replace him in the band.

“Keith’s been my best friend since first grade, and he came to me and said he just wasn’t having fun anymore,” Tennyson said. “I told him that we’d never done this for anything but fun, so he ought to get out. If it ever gets to the point where it’s no longer fun for me, I’ll quit right then.”

Fans can rest easy. Quitting’s not in the Cowboys’ immediate future plans. Tennyson has written two new songs — “Take a Ride in the Country” and “People Think,” which McGrath co-wrote — and the band is putting the finishing touches on recording them and releasing the tunes as digital downloads.

And the Cowboys still play at least a couple of shows every month.

“We all enjoy this still,” Tennyson said. “We love getting to go out and be a country music star part-time, getting that musical need fulfilled. We enjoy what we do for a living, but everyone needs some other pursuit, some other art in their life. The Kinchafoonee Cowboys are my art.”

While the Cowboys have stayed together with few personnel changes over two decades, the Bo Henry Band has featured a revolving cast of some of the region’s best musicians. The constant, though, has been Henry, whose passion for music hasn’t waned in the decade and a half he’s been fronting his jam-like collective.

“We’ve had all these people playing with us over the years, but the crazy thing about it is that when any of them left the band, it was never on bad terms,” Henry said. “A guy might move, have family or health issues, or leave for a job somewhere else, but there was never any of the he-said, she-said drama that you find in a lot of bands.

“For all of us who’ve ever played in this band, it’s always been about the music.”

Guitarists Brandon Fox and Kent Dowling, bassist Terry Stubbs, drummer Tim Carter, keyboardist Buck Bradshaw and Henry are the primary players who are a part of every BHB show. But percussionists Mark Brimberry and Todd Fox, trumpeter Joe Maxey, and saxists John Wills and Tommy Goode are also part of the band.

Of course, “Uncle” Ed Washburn may bring his steel guitar to a Bo Henry Band show, Wayne Lay may play sax, Danny Fallin frequently plays keys, and Jodi Mann often provides lead and backing vocals. Lance Larson is BHB’s tambourine man, and Brooke Hixon is the band’s part-time road manager.

“We’re just a bunch of guys who love to play music,” Henry said. “There is a core group of six of us who are at every show, but we love to get together with all these local musicians.”

Henry played in a couple of high school bands before setting out on his own after graduation. He’d learned piano at a young age and took up the guitar at age 11. He took “maybe 14 lessons” (10 of them, ironically, from Tennyson) before becoming obsessed with the instrument.

“I was always around great music,” he said. “My sister was older, so when I was 5 or 6 I was listening to her music, to the Eagles, Bob Seger, the Beatles. My dad and I would always listen to Farleigh Taylor’s ‘Taylor-Made Opry’ on the Dothan radio station, so I was playing brooms before I picked up a real guitar.

“It’s that background of all kinds of good music that I grew up with that influenced the kind of music I would play.”

Henry started his professional career as a solo artist, then he and Matt Gay became an acoustic act. Along the way he played with such local musicians as Geoffrey Nielson (who would later form the Lost Trailers) and Lovick and Bryan Marbury. His start-up of the band that would bear his name was an ominous one, as two members of the band died in a car wreck.

Along the way Randy Brimberry, Gay, Ed Williams, Mike Wilson, David Plummer, B.J. Rainwater and David Shelton signed on as part of the band.

In his late 20s, Henry decided he “couldn’t see myself doing things the way I’d been doing when I turned 40,” so he opened the Harvest Moon restaurant in downtown Albany. That did not slow down his musical sideline, however.

“For like four or five years, I paid my employees and my bills out of the restaurant, and I made my money by playing with the band,” he said. “There were a lot of times I’d go out and play shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so that I’d have enough money to make payroll on Monday.”

Henry decided early in his career that he would not chase the elusive musical dream of fame and fortune.

“We weren’t writing ‘radio music,’ and we didn’t come in with fancy outfits like some bands you see,” he said. “One show we might look like a biker gang, the next one a football team. We made a decision early that we would just be who we are.

“I have no regrets that we did it this way. If we’d gotten some kind of break and had a shot at a musical career, would we have taken it? Yes, of course. But I don’t regret that we did this our way.”

The Bo Henry Band have completed their second album (“See the Sunrise”), recordings of which will be distributed during the Turkey Jam.

“We’d hoped to have everything packaged and ready to sell for the show, but it’s not quite ready,” Henry said. “We’ll make a few copies and hand them out. This is a project we really enjoyed doing. Do we hope people want to buy the CD? You bet we do. Do we want them to listen to our music? Of course. But I don’t expect to hear it on Rock 103.

“This is something we all wanted to do, to get music we’d written out to people who want to hear it. It’s never mattered to us if it’s two people or 2,000. It’s still about the music for us.”