BOY NAMED BANJO
In a time when the popular choice is to chase the double yellow line down the road to country radio, Boy Named Banjo thrives on its fringes. The Nashville-raised five-piece is a fusion of contemporary country, Americana and folk-rock stacked on a foundation of bluegrass.
“We’re trying to find our own niche within popular country music today,” says Sam McCullough (drums). “But not straight down the middle.”
The band, which has been together in some iteration since members were in high school, is comprised of Barton Davies (banjo), Ford Garrard (bass/upright bass), Sam McCullough (drums) Willard Logan (mandolin, acoustic/electric guitar) and William Reames (acoustic guitar/harmonica). William and Willard played in a middle school garage rock band together, but it wasn’t until William met Barton in high school English class that Boy Named Banjo started to take shape.
Barton had just started playing banjo when he heard William listening to bluegrass music. He suggested they jam together, which led to them asking Willard to join them. The guys started playing music on the streets of downtown Nashville, which is where the name “Boy Named Banjo” was created, outside of the famed Robert’s Western World. While playing, a man walked by and yelled to Barton “Play that banjo boy!” Later that night William came up with the name Boy Named Banjo, which has stuck ever since.
Ford started playing bass when he was 13 years old, and he, Willard, William and Barton shared a guitar teacher. They played a couple of shows together in high school, but it wasn’t until after college that Ford and Sam joined the band and together the five guys formed the band Boy Named Banjo that we know today.
“I was like, ‘I don’t think you need a drummer because you’re a bluegrass band, but I’ll be your drummer if you want me to be,'” Sam recalls. “They were like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it.'”
That was the summer of 2013, and the addition of the bass and drums immediately started to evolve the group’s sound from its rootsy, string band feel into something more commercial. Not only did the band continue to steadily release music independently, releasing two albums and an EP, the band developed its one-of-a-kind live show over the years until it attracted Mercury Records Nashville’s attention in 2019.
Boy Named Banjo had just launched their most extensive headlining tour to date when the pandemic commanded them to drive the 36 hours from Portland, Oregon, back to Nashville and put their lives on hold for the next 18 months. They became the first act that Universal Music Group Nashville signed via Zoom about two weeks later.
“We’re a very live-driven band,” William said. “We love to play live. We love for people just to have a great time. We also have a lot of banjo solos and electric guitar. I feel like our music is an escape from everyday life. You come to a show, and we have a little bit of something for everyone.”
While the pause wasn’t what anyone planned, Boy Named Banjo released their debut EP, Circles, in summer of 2021. The collection includes seven tracks co-written by members of the band including the compassionate “Go Out Dancing,” which the band says takes on a much larger meaning post pandemic thinking “if it really was ending” what would we do? They used the time to write songs and hone in on their sound with writer/producer Oscar Charles (Carly Pearce, Charlie Worsham, Elvie Shane). With a catalogue of songs to choose from, and recent time spent in the studio, the guys are deciding what to run with next.
“They built themselves into something great and Nashville noticed. These guys are realer than the real deal,” says Charles.
“The pause was tough touring wise because that’s where we really thrive is on the road,” William said. “If people haven’t heard us, they seem to get it when they see us live. That’s a huge aspect of what we do, so figuring out how to capture our live sound in the studio is tricky. But that time allowed us to figure that out a little bit.”
Until now, members say, they were finding their way through their “musical adolescence.”
“We have a special chemistry together,” Barton said.
“I think we’re really just starting to know what Boy Named Banjo sounds like from here on out,” Sam said.
Boy Named Banjo spent 2022 on the road playing some of country music’s largest festivals including Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks and Country Jam, Kip Moore’s Fire on Wheels Tour, they made their CMA Fest debut playing at the Ascend Amphitheatre Nighttime Concert, and played a sold-out hometown show at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl. The band is now embarking on an 11-city headlining tour and they will be making their Grand Ole Opry debut this spring. Last year, Boy Named Banjo released the tracks “Heart In Motion” and “Heart Attack.” The first release of 2023 will be “Whiskey Dreams.”