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The Story Behind...James Reams & the Barnstormers

Donald Teplyske  |  March 31, 2013

James Reams & the Barnstormers are one of my favourite bluegrass bands; I've made no secret of that over the years. I love James' voice, the way he interprets country songs and makes them bluegrass, and quite simply the way the band sounds no matter who is within it. That he has written several of the finest songs I've ever heard simply solidifies his standing in my eyes. I listened to his "Troubled Times" album just yesterday, and I will put that alongside any bluegrass album released in the past decade and have a hard time finding one that beats it. His "One Foot in the Honky Tonk" is another personal favourite.

As we continue our exploration of bluegrass band names, it is appropriate that we feature The Barnstormers. By the way, James has just posted a trailer to his long-awaited feature "Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in their Own Words"- I have no idea how to make a link, so cut and paste this to view it:

Here is James' description of how he came to use the Barnstormer name:

"The term 'barnstorming' was first used to describe Samuel Drake's theatrical troupe's 1815 tour from Albany, NY to the new frontier - bringing entertainment to farming communities while sleeping and performing in barns. This just seemed to be a good fit for us as we bring our own brand of bluegrass music to the far reaches as well as the big towns. And, I have to admit that we've slept in a few barns ourselves!

I played for years at the Good Coffeehouse Music Parlor in Brooklyn. Was talking to Anne Klaeysen about a name for the band and I suggested the Barn Burners, but she thought that wasn't a good idea as she thought no one should ever burn down a barn. So I suggested Barnstormers. Plus, I think barns are iconic for America, like castles are for England.

One other note: one of the most mysterious bluegrass albums of all time was put out by Homer and the Barnstormers. No one even knows who played on the album. It was just a down and dirty from a record company that put together a studio group to record "Banjos on Fire." I didn't actually find out about this album until after I had named the band though... an interesting side note!"

I've read that some claim Buck Trent played the banjo on that album, but haven't seen anything definitive on the subject.

I was familiar with the term 'barnstormer' as it related to early pilots who would do stunt flying demonstrations in the early days of aviation, but hadn't realized the term had applied to other entertainers until much later. When I started listening to James Reams' music, I saw the connection to early pioneers of the music- the Bill Monroes, the Flatt & Scruggs,- roaring into a town, playing a show, and leaving again under the dark of night. I also found a connection to the term for baseball teams who would travel from community to community, challenging the local team: there is a little Bill Monroe in that use of the word, as well.

Jack Paget, a man I met in Red Deer, spent a couple years in Nashville in the mid-to-late 50s, and performed with various musical acts, including 'standing in' on bass with Bill Monroe on occasion and doing comedy within his road show. The few stories he shared with me about those days brings to mind the 'barnstorming' early bluegrass bands did, both on their own and as part of larger package shows.

Not a life I could have lived, certainly.

Thanks James for sharing your story. I am looking forward to receiving my copies of the "Pioneers of Bluegrass."

If you would like to have your band's journey to your name featured here at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, drop me a line. Thanks for visiting- Donald

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