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Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family Tradition

Written by Staff on October 18, 2019 – 3:37 pm -

Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family TraditionOver the past couple of years, I’ve been blessed to get to know, pick, sing and minister with a new group in Bluegrass gospel music called the Stevens Family Tradition (SFT).  They are talented, they are anointed and they are driven for the cause of Christ. I’d like to introduce you to one of their founding members, Brad Stevens. He is a great singer, a fine musician and an anointed preacher.

 

Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?

Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family Tradition

Brad Stevens: I’ve often said I cut my teeth on church pews and guitars; that being said, music has been a part of my life since a very early age. I remember standing in front of a church in my home town at the age of five, playing my guitar and singing a whole song. No doubt even before that I was joining in on the picking and singing at my nanny Shirley Stevens and Papaw Jess Stevens’ house. 

 

Butler: Who is your top instrumental mentor? Vocal mentor?  Preaching mentor? 

Stevens: For instrument mentors I would have to look no farther than my immediate family: my dad, Donald Stevens, my late papaw, Jess Stevens, and my brother, Donnie Stevens. My cradle was surrounded by their playing and singing.

Vocal mentors could be a long list of folks for sure, but one of the most influential ones would have to be a gentleman, who is my cousin, Danny Stevens. I grew up listening to him sing in church and I found myself trying to sing like him for years when I was a kid.

My preaching mentor is my pastor of nearly 22 years, who is also my father-in-law, Joey Burns. He has faithfully served the same church, which he started, for 31 years. He has taught me so much from delivering the word of God effectively to how to love people unconditionally.

 

Butler: Why is the word, “Tradition,” included in your group name?

Stevens: As you may have already noticed, music has been part of my brother’s and my life since birth. We certainly have inherited a love for music from our papaw and dad. We’re the third generation of our immediate family that has maintained a love for music…I’d say that’s tradition.

 

Butler: Tell us the history of SFT and introduce us to those who are in the group today.

Stevens: Stevens Family Tradition (SFT) started around four years ago as an album project. It had been over 15 years since I had been part of any music other than at church. Before I started preaching, my brother and I were part of a bluegrass band and made some of the fondest memories of our life doing so. After the long absence of that organized band music in my life, I really felt it was time to rekindle that with my brother, so we got together a group of friends to record an album. Next thing you know, after some conversations with our producer, Steve Gulley, who influenced us greatly to write songs, something we had never really done, the Lord began to give us lyrics, and the rest is history. The band started with myself, my brother Donnie Stevens, our long-time friend Frank Farley on guitar, and Jim Harp on the bass. These are the original band members and are still with us today. Frank’s son, Trey, played resonator guitar with us for about a year until life took him in a different direction; we enjoyed having him. We have had several different banjo players throughout the process but filling that position now is a local friend Tommy Couch. Our good friend, Gil Benson, sits in with us from time to time on the fiddle as well. 

 

Butler: What’s your biggest or most special musical moment?

Stevens: The Lord has blessed us to be able to play for a diverse group of people throughout our ministry so far; from Dollywood to congregations in churches throughout several states both large and small. We have been blessed to have our music on the radio and even on the charts, which is still a little hard to fathom. But if there’s ever a moment that is special, it’s when we’ve got to see those in need of the Savior lose grip of that pew and walk the aisle to the altar and pray through to salvation. That’s why we do it.

 

Butler: Tell us about your family. Are any of them musical?

Steens: I have been married to my wife Candon for 21 years. We have been blessed with three kids; Peyton, 19, Hannah, 16, and Hope who is seven. Candon plays piano and has been the worship leader in our church for many years. Our middle daughter, Hannah, has recently begun to follow in her mommy and daddy’s footsteps, singing in church as well. As for little Hope, she’s like her daddy; she’s been a song bird since she could talk. All this music and singing hasn’t caught up with our son Peyton yet, but one day I believe it will.

 

Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family TraditionButler: Tell us about the music festivals you are involved with in your hometown of Manchester, Kentucky.

Stevens: My brother Donnie and I have recently been involved with a festival here in our home town called Saltworks Appalachian Homecoming Festival. We had a very small part in it before, and were blessed to have the folks ask us to take care of booking the bands. We did our best to provide them the best bluegrass music in America today. 

Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family Tradition

Brad Stevens at 2 Years Old

We also felt the urgency and believe the Lord has led us to organize and promote a gospel event in our community as well. We went before the Manchester Tourism Commission with our vision and they were kind enough to give us the financial boost we needed to make sure this vision becomes reality. With their help and other sponsors as well, what will be known as the 1st Annual Shaping Clay Jubilee will happen on October 4 – 5, 2019, right here at the Pioneer Village in Manchester. Appearing at the event will be Heaven’s Mountain Band, the Shepherds, Steve Gulley and Friends, Stevens Family Tradition, the Old Time Preachers Quartet, Jeff and Sheri Easter, the Hoppers, and the Isaacs. We are pleased to be able to offer this event for free to all who would like to attend.

 

Les Butler and Friends: Brad Stevens of the Stevens Family TraditionButler: Please give us a brief testimony.

Stevens: First let me say, I’m thankful to be saved. I remember the day when the Lord changed everything about my life. Since that day, life has certainly dealt me and my family some uncertain days. On December 23, 2010, I had a massive stroke in my brain stem. God gave us a miracle and I survived; however, there were many days over the next four months when I didn’t know if I would live or die. But through it all, God was with us and gave us the grace and strength we needed to endure. This experience has played a huge part of who myself and my family are today. I still deal with some issues from the stroke today, but I don’t regret it happened because as a result of this experience, my family has grown closer, our dependency on the Lord has grown stronger, and many sermons and songs have come into being influenced by this first-hand experience. I’m very thankful for life and the opportunity to minister the truth of the gospel through preaching and music. I don’t deserve to be where I am today, and give God all the glory for being not only my Savior, but the Author and the Finisher of my faith!

Butler Music Group 2019 Diamond Awards Top Five nominees

Les Butler

By Les Butler

First published by SGNScoops Magazine in July 2019

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Les Butler and Friends: Jeff Tolbert of the Primitive Quartet

Written by Staff on July 14, 2019 – 2:53 pm -

Les Butler and Friends: Jeff Tolbert of the Primitive Quartet

Primitive Quartet

Les Butler and Friends: Jeff Tolbert of the Primitive Quartet

I’ve known Jeff Tolbert for many years, and I like him a lot. He’s a great husband, father, musician and one of the all-time greatest singers I’ve ever heard. I thought I knew most everything about Jeff, but even I was surprised at some of his answers to my questions. For example, did you know that over the years he played for Jeff and Troy Tolbert, the Stanleys, the Easter Brothers, Jeff and Sheri Easter, and he filled in with the Lewis Family, Karen Peck and New River, the Isaacs and Ricky Skaggs. Of course, it feels like he’s been a member of the Primitive Quartet forever. You’ll enjoy getting to know my friend, Jeff Tolbert.                                                                                                                        

Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?                                                              

Jeff Tolbert: My earliest memories (for me) were singing with my dad. We sang everywhere; in our community, churches, outdoor festivals and at many radio stations. We were featured a lot on the Saturday Morning Merry Go Round at WPAQ in Mt. Airy, N.C.                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

Les Butler and Friends: Jeff Tolbert of the Primitive Quartet

Jeff Tolbert

Butler: What was the first instrument you tried to play?                                                               

Tolbert: I started playing the guitar and bass guitar about the same time, around the age of seven. After that, I started picking up other instruments. I remember my dad telling me when to change chords on the guitar. I couldn’t wait for him to get home from work so we could pick.

 

Butler: What instruments do you play now?                                                                                   

Tolbert: I play the bass guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, autoharp and a little on the dobro.

 

Butler: Who are your top three musician mentors?                                                                         

Tolbert: I would definitely say my dad is my first musical mentor. He taught me so much about music as well as life. His spiritual influence and walk with the Lord started me on my journey many years ago, playing music and living for my Savior. I miss him dearly, but I know we will sing together again.  

The Easter Brothers would be my second mentors as well as much of their family. The Easter Brothers were from my home town of Mt.Airy, N.C. Their music has always been a part of my life. I still say, no one can sing three-part harmony like Russell, James and Edd.  My third musical mentor would be Ricky Skaggs. From Ralph Stanley and JD Crowe until now, he’s always been my favorite singer and musician. I grew up learning how to sing harmony with Ricky’s records. After reading Ricky’s autobiography that he published, I realized our upbringing was so much alike, as we were both raised in a godly home with a love for music. I cherish his friendship and appreciate his music.

 

Butler:  If you could only do one thing; sing or play, which would you choose?                         

Tolbert:  As much as I love to play, I would have to choose singing. Dad always told me, (when)  you sing a song, listen to the words. If the song helps you, it will help others. I want to be a help and encouragement to someone. I want to be able to tell folks there’s hope in a lost and dying world, and there’s joy in knowing Jesus.

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Les Butler and Friends: Earl Wheeler of the Marksmen Quartet

Written by Staff on June 17, 2019 – 6:08 pm -

Earle Wheeler and the Marksmen Quartet

I’ve known Earl Wheeler, and his son Mark, for nearly 40 years. Earl has stood the test of time. Through decades of changing musical styles, he has planted a flag in the ground that says, “I ain’t changing!”

 

Earl Wheeler

Earl Wheeler

Earl still sings and teaches shaped notes, and has attended the same church for nearly 80 years. The Marksmen Quartet sounds like a Southern gospel quartet with bluegrass instrumentation. When you hear Earl and the Marksmen today, it’s like taking a time machine back 50, 60 or even 70 years. I’m proud to introduce you to my friend, Earl Wheeler.

 

Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?

Earl Wheeler:  In 1946, Wahoo Baptist church ran a bus to Lyman Hall School where they held the Stamps Baxter singing school. I went for two weeks. Wahoo Baptist also had singing schools from 1946 into the 60’s. They taught voice, theory, piano, etc.

 

Earl Wheeler of the Marksmen QuartetButler: Did you grow up in a musical family?

Wheeler: Yes, everybody in the family could sing and my granddaddy was Georgia’s champion banjo player two years in a row. My mom played guitar and sang alto, and my dad played guitar and French harp, and he pastored until he was 82. My other grandpa played a harmonica and all of my cousins sang and played.

Butler: How long have you been singing, and do you recall the first time your ever sang in public?

Wheeler: It would have been 1944 or 1945. Granddaddy sat me on a piano stool and said, “Sang, boy!” And I remember thinking I’m a singer now. I believe that’s what I was born to do…sing. The first group I ever sang with was in our church. We had a quartet and had a radio show in Gainesville, Georgia. I did some recording and traveling with a group called the Gospel Hearts Trio in the early 60’s. We were Southern gospel; three singers and a piano player.

 

Butler: Early on, were you more of a Southern gospel fan or a Bluegrass gospel fan?

Wheeler: Both, because I listened to the Blue Ridge Quartet on a radio station in Spartanburg, S.C. and Carl Story and the Ramblin’ Mountaineers on a Knoxville, Tenn. station. We didn’t have a TV when I was growing up, so I would go to my bedroom and listen to the radio and read. I ended up being friends with Carl. When the Marksmen recorded for K-Tel records, we recorded a Carl Story song. We sold tons of those albums and he liked getting those checks!

 

Earle Wheeler and the Marksmen QuartetButler: When did you start the Marksmen quartet, and were they originally a Southern gospel quartet or a Bluegrass quartet? If it started as a Southern gospel quartet, what happened to change your musical style?

Wheeler: I started the Marksmen in the fall of 1967. We were a Southern gospel quartet; four guys and a piano. Around 1977, our son Mark played guitar, and we had a piano player quit one weekend and we sang with just the guitar and bass. Our tenor singer said he used to play mandolin in a Bluegrass band, so we never went back to a piano

 

Butler: Your son Mark is a master musician. Do you play any instruments?  

Wheeler: I play a little guitar and bass.

 

Butler: Give me your all-star quartet, filled with your favorite singers on each vocal part.

Wheeler: My all-star quartet would be James Sego on lead, Steve Gulley on tenor, Jack Laws on baritone and Ray Dean Reese on bass. James Sego could really get to singing and it looked like he was riding a horse. We used to sing a lot with the Kingsmen.

 

Butler: What is your favorite song and why?

Wheeler: “Oh, Happy Day” (the page 86 in the red book version) because it says it was a happy day when Jesus washed my sins away…and it was.

 

Earl WheelerButler: You teach shape note singing. When and where did you learn and how is it going today?

Wheeler: (I learned at) Stamps Baxter singing schools. It does well when you can get people to listen long enough to learn it. We are teaching it at our Marksmen Mountain Music camps and a lot of young people are catching on.

 

Butler: When you’re not singing, what are you doing?

Wheeler: (I’m working) with my cows and my VW beetles, and eating my wife Shirley’s cooking. She cooks the best biscuits I know of.

 

Butler: How much longer do you see yourself traveling?

Wheeler: (Until) I can’t do it any longer.

 

Butler: Give us a brief testimony…

Wheeler: I had struggled with my salvation for about eight years (until) finally on August 10th, 1956 the Lord saved me in the morning service of a revival meeting, in the choir at Wahoo Baptist Church.

Les Butler

By Les Butler

First published by SGNScoops Magazine April 2019.

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Les Butler and Friends: Danny Roberts of the Grascals

Written by Staff on April 29, 2019 – 6:07 pm -

Les Butler and Friends: Danny Roberts of the Grascals

Les Butler and Friends: Danny Roberts of the Grascals

I first met Danny Roberts when he started the Bluegrass Gospel band, The New Tradition.  I loved them. They were, as their name suggests, both new sounding, as well as traditional sounding. And wow, could that mandolin player tear up a mandolin.

Over the years, I interviewed them and featured them many times on my nationally syndicated radio show, Front Porch Fellowship. When they stopped traveling, I was bummed out. But that closed door lead to another open door.  

Danny and Andrea Roberts started going to my church, Middle Tennessee Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn. For several years we got to play side by side in the church band. Those were great days. Now, he’s on the road full time with the multi-award winning, Grascals.  

Let’s learn a little more about my friend, Danny Roberts.

Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory? 
Danny Roberts: The earliest memories of playing music are with my Uncle Jim. He was one of the few relatives I had that played guitar and he was always open to sitting down with me and helping me learn new things. He always played guitar at his home church, so I had that influence from the start.

 

Danny Roberts

Danny Roberts

LB:What’s the first instrument you tried to play? 
DR: Piano. When I was 12 years old, I broke my hip and had to homeschool that year and my mom was taking piano lessons. After a few days of playing, I decided I really liked playing an instrument but thought it should be guitar. Several years earlier my dad had bought a guitar and brought it home, but no one ever did anything with it, so I got it out and learned to play “Jingle Bells,” (my favorite guitar instrumental that I had heard on a Buck Owens’ Christmas record.)

 

LB: What instruments do you play? 
DR: Guitar, mandolin and fiddle.

 

LB: Who are your top three mandolin mentors? 
DR: Sam Bush, David Grisman and Bill Monroe.

 

LB: What’s your band history, first band to current band? 
DR: First band would be the New Tradition, then Ronnie Reno and the Reno Tradition and now the Grascals.

 

Les Butler and Friends: Danny Roberts of the Grascals

Danny Roberts and the Grascals

LB: What is your favorite song to play and why? 
DR: This changes for me fairly often. Right now, my favorite song to play is “I’ve Been Redeemed,” from the Grascals current CD, “Before Breakfast.” I love the message in the song. It’s in three-quarter time which is something the Grascals don’t do a lot of, but I really like it, plus I get to kick it off with the mandolin.

 

LB: Do you write lyrics?  If so, what’s the favorite song you’ve written?
DR: I do enjoy writing songs with lyrics and my favorite would probably be “Crucified by Me.” I wrote it and recorded it several years ago. Recently it’s been revived by a great young band called ClayBank and it’s receiving a lot of airplay. The song is about a having a dream where I was committing a crime, but I wasn’t paying for the crime – an innocent man was. That innocent man was Jesus.

 

LB: How do you give birth to your original instrumentals?  Do you have a favorite you’ve written? 
DR: The instrumentals I write usually come from a mood I’m in or from inspiration that I get from listening to other artists. If I must pick a favorite, I think it would be “Derrington Drive,” off of my “Nighthawk” CD. The song was inspired by the tuning Bill Monroe did on his tune, “Get up John,” and named in honor of Charlie Derrington – one of my best friends and mandolin building mentors. I’ve written several and many of them are special to me including “AndiWayne,” and “Old Paths,” from my “Mandolin Orchard” CD, and “Danielle’s Waltz,” from the “Nighthawk” recording.

 

LB: What’s your biggest musical moment?
DR: I’ve been very blessed to have many, awesome musical moments and I’m so grateful for each of them. However, I think the one moment that may stand out just a little more than the rest was playing the Grand Ole Opry with Dolly Parton and having Porter Waggoner join us to sing a couple of their old duets. It just so happens that this was the last time that Porter and Dolly sang together because Porter passed away not too long after, so it’s an extremely precious memory for me. Also, having the legendary Jordanaires join the Grascals on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to perform our Dove Award nominated song “Did You Forget God Today” was also an amazing musical moment.

 

LB: Tell us about your wife and daughter, both of whom are very musical.
DR: I met my wife, Andrea, at a bluegrass festival where she was playing guitar and singing in her group Petticoat Junction (I was at the festival playing with New Tradition.) A few months after we first met, my band sold her band a utility trailer for hauling music equipment and, as they say, the rest is history. Andrea stopped traveling on the road after our daughter Jaelee was born and later started the Andrea Roberts Agency – a booking agency that books several top bluegrass bands including the Grascals.
Jaelee really didn’t have much of a choice but to be in music being that’s all that has ever gone on in our home since she was born. She started playing fiddle when she was four and now plays guitar, mandolin, piano, banjo and some bass. Jaelee has literally grown up singing in church which has been such a blessing and we’re so thankful that she has that foundation…THE Foundation. She is a very talented singer and her first single, a gospel song called “All My Tears,” will be released early in 2019.

 

LB: When you’re not picking and singing, what are you doing?
DR: I have an instrument repair shop in my home and I repair stringed instruments. I also give music lessons to folks all ages and skill levels wanting to learn mandolin and guitar.

 

Grascals

Grascals

LB: Give us a brief testimony…

DR: When I was 12 years old I broke my hip and spent the next year on crutches and pretty much in the house. During that time my life was forever changed…that’s when I started playing guitar and when I got saved. I had just turned 13 years old when I was attending a revival at my home church in Leitchfield, Kent., and the preacher preached on hell and preached it hot. I decided that was something I wanted no part of and accepted Christ as my Savior that night. There are a lot of decisions I’ve made in my life that I might change if I had the opportunity, but making the decision to accept God’s gift of salvation is the single greatest decision of my life.

By Les Butler

Les Butler and Friends is published monthly by SGNScoops Magazine

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