‘Growing close together’

Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

When attempting to define the Tuesday Bunch that gathers the First Tuesday of each month to pick and sing, several definitions apply.

Webster defines “bunch” as a group of like items or individuals gathered together and as a group of people usually having a common interest or association.

Both of those definitions apply to the Tuesday Bunch. However, the most apt definition may be “a group of things growing close together.”

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“The Tuesday Bunch is made up of people of all ages, both men and women, who love to pick and sing,” said Mike Benton, the leader of the group. “We are here to learn from each other and to help each other. There’s a closeness among us that makes for good music and good friends.”

Back in 2004, Mike Fortune wanted to get a group of pickers and singers together every week at a place where there was no drinking or rough-necking.

“We started meeting each week at Jacobs’ Body Shop in Troy and met there for a while and then moved out to Mike’s house in Oak Grove,” Benton said. “But that was kind of far out so we started meeting just once a month. The crowd got smaller and finally we decided everybody needed a break for a while.”

But once picking and singing gets in the blood, it’s there for good.

So, about six weeks ago, the Tuesday Bunch got back together and found quickly they still communicate with the universal language of music.

“My son, Thad, got saved and we got together for a picking party out at his place out here at Banks,” Benton said. “We did a little cooking and invited all the original Tuesday night bunch. Everybody was happy for Thad, and we all had a good time picking and singing together again.”

Being back together was like old times, so the bunch decided to get together every First Tuesday. “We have a lot of new people coming and young people,” Benton said. “As a rule, we play only gospel music but, because we have young people in the bunch, we decided to loosen up a bit and play some different kinds of music. We don’t play any songs about drinking or running around or bad behavior. But, there’s nothing wrong with ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’”

Benton said when he was learning to play the guitar he would find a group of pickers and stand off at a distance and listen to the others play.

“I learned a lot that way, and that’s the way it is with us now,” he said. “These young people that are learning to play can come out here and it’s a good way to learn without having to get in the middle of it.”

Benton is pleased with the interest among young people.

“Every time you turn on the TV, there’s music,” he said. “Those pre-teen shows are constantly playing music and there’s always somebody with a guitar in their hands. I don’t care for that kind of music, but it’s music.

“ Kids are being spoon-fed music and they want to play. And, we’re glad to have them join us. We help and encourage them because music is important in our lives and, hopefully, it will be in theirs.”

Most members of the Tuesday Bunch have been playing together, here and there and off and on, for years. They have an appreciation for each other’s talents and a collective dedication to old-time music.

“Many of us don’t have to be here to play,” Benton said. “Arnold Shepard has a band, the Benton Brothers have a band and several of us are in the Lighthouse String Ensemble. We’re here because we like being here and playing with our friends.

“So we’re courteous and the way we play is like a Round Robin. We sit in circle, sort of, and one person picks a song and leads it. Then, another person picks a song. Everybody gets a favorite song or two to sing.”

While chords and voices may be off-key, every picker and singer is “in tune” with the music that is being played.

As Berthold Auerbach, once said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” and all is good and right in a little tin top just off Highway 93 in rural Pike County.”


Mike Benton and Amanda Smothers

Hugh Atkins – bass

Ray Rossell banjo