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Johnny Roquemore & The Apostles of Bluegrass

The Southeastern Bluegrass Association CD Review

As winners of the Stone Mountain Bluegrass & Old Time Music Contest in April of 2010 we revisit this unique band’s part in our music community.  Front man, singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnny Roquemore and his band include John Nipper on banjo, mandolin, harmonica and vocals, while Dave Ross drives the Big Blue Bass, plays dobro, provides vocals and some of the banjo.  Along with special guest musicians the trio produces (dare I say) an eclectic traditional mix of Prairie Home Companion and Grand Ole Opry styling that fit in either category and extend beyond those boundaries.

For the Prairie Home crowd their CD release of Sumpter County Bridge is the kind of stuff Garrison Keillor would be proud to put on the shows he hosts on Public Radio.  Cuts like Boxcar (live at Eddie’s Attic) or the irreverent Peeps are Poopy give the project a diversity audiences appreciate.  A few cuts endear themselves to a Caribbean and Salsa flavor while others still carry the bluegrass tradition with a twist (or perhaps twisted) flavor.  Cuts like Ranger Jan and Sir Waste-a-Lot & Seymore Greene touch the tender sensibilities of the ecologically challenged (or even illogically challenged) segment of today’s society.  All in all a great CD completely written by Roquemore himself is for those who enjoy an expansion of music horizons without leaving the bluegrass homestead.

The Apostles’ latest CD offering Moonshine Still not only reveals Johnny Roquemore’s talent but once again contributes to the mix of standard cuts employing the superb efforts of his great band mates too.  These guys seem to know something about putting a project together that has something for everybody without losing the tradition or focus of the effort.  From illegal whiskey to religious faith this CD is great.  For their traditional bluegrass fans this is one to add to your library.

So much more can be said about this great trio but then we’d have to charge them for advertising.

Apostles of Bluegrass – Statesboro Herald

With a lead vocalist who once won the Gong Show for playing the William Tell Overture on the harmonica and a bass player who moonlights as an electrical engineer, the Apostles of Bluegrass is not your typical bluegrass band.

With a mix of intelligent lyrics, “bad jokes” and a flair for humorous entertainment, the three-man band which hails from Mansfield, Ga. rides the edge of bluegrass music, taking it in unique and unexpected directions.

“Our music can be described as a cross of quirky and humorous original songs peppered with misinterpreted renditions of the traditional bluegrass cannon,” lead vocalist and guitarist Johnny Roquemore (pronounced Rock-more) explains. “The result is a high-energy show of thought provoking yet foot stomping merriment.”

Unlike more traditional bluegrass bands, humor and entertainment are essential ingredients for the trio comprised of Roquemore, John Nipper and Dave Ross on the big blue upright bass. “People love to laugh,” said Roquemore, who is the group’s main lyricist. “Humor seems to be a universal that everyone can understand.”

He said his songs develop by taking a subject and expressing it in unexpected ways. Recent tunes include Moonshine Still which is about his uncle who was a moon shiner in Newton County, a swing tune called Box Car about a boy who feels he is not worthy of the girl he wants, and Broom Pony, which is a reggae tune. Their covers range from “Will the Circle be Unbroken” to the Flintstone’s theme song which they have entitled “The Oldest Bluegrass Song.” The band also does a cover of the Allman Brothers’ version of The Statesboro Blues, which Roquemore learned in Statesboro while attending Georgia Southern College.
“We try to mix things up. I think a strict diet of one type of music is boring for the audience,” he said.

If Roquemore’s music seems eclectic, it only parallels his life.
Roquemore grew up on a Mansfield hay farm which had been in his family since 1784. The original 500 acre farm was given as a land bounty to two French brothers who survived serving in the militia. From an early age, he was interested in music. “When I was a kid my whole goal in life was to have an amplifier taller than I was,” he said.

In the fall of 1969 he entered Georgia Southern College which at the time had only 4,500 students. There he spent the next two years, first as a music major and then in the theater department. With the Vietnam War raging, Roquemore said the students were doing everything they could to avoid the draft, but what exempted him were his flat feet.

After transferring to an Atlanta college, his stewardess girlfriend talked him into hitchhiking to California. Along the way, the girlfriend got lost, but Roquemore found his place in the Hollywood/Malibu area where he stayed for the next 30 years. One of his first jobs was at the Great American Food and Beverage Co., a Los Angeles restaurant which required all of its employees to entertain its patrons as well as serve them. There Roquemore hooked up with a banjo player who taught him the ins and outs of bluegrass music. He also developed a love of acoustic-based playing which Roquemore says means you have less gear to carry and allows you to sit down and play anywhere.

During his time in California, some of his more famous moments included serving as a session harmonica player for the television show “The Magnificent Seven” and winning $516.32 on “The Gong Show” for his harmonica rendition of “The William Tell Overture.”

Then in 2002 after the death of his father, Roquemore and his wife decided to move back to the family farm, a decision he’s never regretted. Networking with other local musicians to pull together gigs, Roquemore said he took the most talented and reliable and formed the Apostles of Bluegrass. Roquemore said the name came from the band’s original lineup which consisted of a Mark and a John who referred to themselves as the Apostles. The name stuck and although they are not a gospel band, they do play the occasional gospel tune.

Since returning to Georgia, Roquemore has earned the title of Creative Loafing Magazine’s “Best Local Singer/Songwriter,” Georgia Music Magazine’s “The 25 Albums of 2005” for The Last Dirt Road, and the Georgia Music Industry Association’s “Best of Country” award. The band also has a new album coming out in the next week

But for Roquemore, it’s all about entertainment. “There are people who heckle the band. I’m the one who heckles the audience.”

The Apostles of Blue Grass will perform at the Averitt Center for the Arts on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Box Office or by calling 912-212-ARTS. This program is supported in part by the Georgia Council for the Arts through appropriations for the Georgia general assembly. GCA also receives support from its partner, The National Endowment for the Arts.

Bluegrass musicians ‘rock more’ – Athens Banner Herald

Johnny Roquemore discusses duct tape, ‘The Gong Show’ and bluegrass
By S. Blanco – Correspondent

Johnny Roquemore knows how to turn heads. The bearded bluegrass musician has spent 30 years honing his musical-comedy skills everywhere from “The Gong Show” to a restaurant with singing waiters.

Roquemore (pronounced, yes, “rock-more”) is originally from Georgia, but spent 30 years in Los Angeles. He moved there in 1972 at the encouragement of his girlfriend. He had been active in Atlanta-area theater and could play music, which helped him get a job at the fairly legendary Great American Food and Beverage Company, where all the workers had to perform music or comedy during their shifts. Those hectic days shaped his career, Roquemore says in a phone interview from his Mansfield home.

“To get people’s attention away from food when they’re hungry is quite a talent,” he says.

But Roquemore found that comedy worked, and says he felt a “kind of a Pavlov response when people laughed” at his quirky lyrics.

Two funny free songs are available on his Web site, www. johnnyroquemore.com – “Roquemores in America” (written for a family reunion) and his popular “The Duct Tape Song.” He also sings “Grandma’s Wooden Leg” (which he calls a “fantasy song about my grandmother’s prosthesis and her getting drunk and dancing around”), and he once played the third part of the overture from the William Tell opera on the harmonica on “The Gong Show,” which won him $500. Roquemore says his music and humor merged naturally.

Just from having a tweaked point of view, it ends up coming out that the way I see things, it ends up being funny,” he says. “The William Tell overture has been very good to me, and I’ll probably play it in Athens.”
Roquemore says he also expects to play a bluegrass version of The Flintstones theme song and “misunderstandable versions of cherished bluegrass songs” at the 40 Watt.

Roquemore’s family has owned a farm in Mansfield since 1784. Roquemore’s mother died in 1999 and for three years Roquemore commuted between Georgia and L.A. to help his father. Roquemore’s wife encouraged him to move back to Mansfield in 2002 and, instead of falling out of the music scene as he expected, Roquemore has been playing often and getting more attention than when he was in California.

“I don’t have a lot of name recognition, but I consider myself a great success,” he says. “Everything I have ever wanted, as far as music goes, I get. It’s a very satisfying position that I’m in. The move was the right thing to do.”