Rick Buck, one of the founders of the Front Porch Country Band, from Lewisburg, PA, literally got into music after he stole his father’s guitar.
“There is no music background in my family at all,” Buck says. “When I was about nine years old, my father (Raymond) was throwing a house party. A guy came in and brought his guitar, and one thing leads to another and my dad gets an acoustic guitar and gets this guy to give him lessons. Well, that was amazing to me, at nine years old, because I wasn’t allowed to touch it. You don’t tell that to a nine-year-old.
“The guy, whose name was Doug Reynolds, would come in and teach my dad for an hour or two, and then they’d shoot the breeze, eat, drink, whatever. And I would watch every minute of this, and while they’d be off doing what they were doing, I’d take the guitar and run up in my room and play what I just heard and saw them doing. After two months of this, my dad caught me. So I waited to get beaten, but he saw that I was playing twice as good as he did. He thought about business more than anything else, and when those two guys started a band, I was in it too.”
The Front Porch Country Band opens for Randy Travis at the Patriots Theater in Trenton on Mother’s Day. “So far this is the only show we are doing with Randy, but we hope this will maybe lead to something else,” says Front Porch’s manager, Rick Gathman.
Buck, who plays guitars and drums, says the band got together about a decade ago as an aggregation of six musicians who had been playing with each other on radio and TV commercial jingles in central Pennsylvania, north of Harrisburg. “We started out doing bread commercials, for Stroehmann’s,” Buck says. “I think we were owned by the bread companies for a while. We started mixing rock and country and developing a different sound, and we were really enjoying what we were doing with it. After a while, we just got used to playing together.”
The other members — Johnny Jolin, vocals and guitars; Joseph Paul, drums and keyboards; Kim Reichley, lead vocals and bass; Alison Rupert, lead vocals and guitars; and Richard Rupert, acoustic and electric lead guitars — have backgrounds in many different types of music. “A couple of the members of the band were rockers’ before becoming country fans, Buck says. “One of us comes from Philly, but most of us are from all over this area, lots of little burgs in central PA.
“All of us had known each other for the better part of 15 years,” he continues. “ In 2001 we wrote a song (“America Standing Tall; The American Trilogy) for 9/11 and we’ve been a band pretty much together ever since then.”
“He’s just a really blazing player,” says Gathman of Buck. “Just really blazing guitar prowess, and it’s hard to keep all that under a lid. When these people got together to do the commercials, songs just broke out spontaneously.”
Like many bands, Front Porch has not yet achieved headline status like, say, Randy Travis. But they have, as individuals or as a distinct group, opened for musicians as esteemed and diverse as Merle Haggard, George Jones, Billy Ray Cyrus, Neal McCoy, Hank Williams III, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Both Ricks will tell you that Front Porch has traveled all over the country, and the world of country. They’ve also traveled all over the world. Twice the band has performed in China, including last year, and has released two discs commemorating those trips.
“What is great about it is how receptive the people there were to what we were doing,” says Buck. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe all the stuff the people tell you in the media. The Chinese people were amazing. They love country music, they love what we were doing, and they treated us all great. We didn’t know what we were eating — everything was either brown, or green, or white rice — but it was great tasting nonetheless. We actually did a John Denver song, we learned real quickly, it was ‘Country Roads.’ And all of these Chinese people, who did not speak English, knew every word of the chorus, which is amazing — thousands of Chinese people who don’t know the language singing the words of `Country Road’ back to you.”
Country music, thanks to a gradual surge of interest around the world and a hype-filled “mini-boom” in the early 1990s, has moved from a relatively secondary pop genre to one of the most successful forms of music in America. When Buck was growing up in Watsontown, a small Susquehanna Valley town, in the 1970s and `80s, country music was something you occasionally saw on TV (Buck Owens, “Hee Haw,” and Dolly Parton, to name a few), but didn’t hear much on the radio. “Well, when I was growing up, I was kind of a hillbilly,” says Buck. “I listened to what was around the house — Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, the Highlanders, and Johnny Cash, but no, it wasn’t really as popular as rock. The older people in the area listened to country, but it was a real generational thing.” Still, nowadays anywhere in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, you can hear country on the radio.
A few years after he first stole his dad’s guitar, Buck began playing, at 13, with his father’s group in the Susquehanna Valley area. Then, when occasionally Grand Old Opry stars would come to Harrisburg, York, or State College, Buck was able to play as a backup musician with them. “That’s helped me a lot when we started the band, and wanted a more hardcore country feel. Sometimes (during performances) the other guys move into more of a rock feel, and I have to bring them back to country. That’s what we offer as a band. Johnny, our one lead singer, always has more of a hardcore country orientation. Kimbo and Allison, our two singers are more from the `70s, `80s rock generation, and that has of course tied in with country over the past few years.”
Gathman says that another musician in the band, drummer Joseph Paul, comes from a contemporary Christian and country Christian music background, and “he also has some of that Philly pop sound coming out when he is drumming and playing keys,” because he used to play sessions as a Philadelphia studio musician.
The band is now promoting a new 15-track CD, “Here We Go Again,” which has themes that have come from different places the band has traveled to. “We have everything on there from straight country-rock to folk songs, bluegrass and Opry-like tunes to Caribbean music,” says Buck. Several of the tunes evoke images of rural Pennsylvania. One of the tunes, “Number Nine Mine,” sounds as if it comes from the stories of missing miners in Pennsylvania or other parts of Appalachia, but fortunately, says Buck, “this is not based on a true story.”
Randy Travis with opener the Front Porch Country Band, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, Memorial Drive, Trenton. Sunday, May 10, 8 p.m. American country singer. His latest CDs include Rise and Shine, Worship and Faith, Passing Through, and Glory Train. $38.50 to $100. 609-984-8400 or www.thewarmemorial.com.