Editor's note: Throughout the summer, Sentinel reporter Dusty W. Sipes will write a weekly feature on local artists who perform various genres of music. This week's feature reviews the country and gospel stylings of Reedsville band Joe Bonson and Coffee Run.
REEDSVILLE - Joe Bonson and Coffee Run are keeping the tradition of country and gospel alive in Pennsylvania.
During the origins of country music, it wasn't uncommon for performers to devote a portion of their show or recordings to gospel songs. As many know, modern country pays little attention to gospel and some would argue the genre has evolved beyond its definition and has become an incarnation of rock and roll.
Bonson starting playing guitar when he was nine years old. His father taught him a few essential chords and he was on his way. He has been reminded that his musical career began before he can personally remember, singing in a rocking chair as a wee lad. His interest in guitar came from his admiration of his father's playing.
"My dad took guitar lessons at Frank's Music Shop in Lewistown, so we're going back a few years," said Bonson.
For anyone over the age of 50, Frank's was the place where many Mifflin County residents learned to play a variety of instruments.
"His interest piqued my interest. Of course, I had to wait until my hands got big enough to wrap around the neck of the guitar," said Bonson.
Bonson was born and raised in a Christian home and did a lot of early singing in church. He performed in a group with his mother, father, Joe Studder and Will Peachey and played shows in "50-60 churches around the area." Bonson felt that country and gospel music went hand in hand, and began to write and perform songs from both genres.
"I still love the Lord and still love to sing gospel music. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. My first three albums were gospel. Out of all the CDs I've made, 'Men Like That' one of my gospel albums has sold about 7,000 copies. I wrote a couple of songs on that album. I wrote about my grandmother and grandfather a lot. I wrote from experiences I had growing up as a kid. That was always my thinking about songwriting.
"Gospel music came pretty easy to write. Some people say I've lived a sheltered life; my dad never took me to the bars or anything like that. He didn't believe in that. As a result, it was hard to write about drinking and songs like that, so I wrote about experiences, the good things in life and things my grandfather or dad talked about," Bonson said.
At 14, Bonson cut his first 45 record at The Capitol Theatre, in Wheeling, W.Va. Side A featured a cover of Meryl Haggard's signature song "Okie From Muskogee" and Mel Tillis' hit, "Brand New Mister Me" on the B-side.
In 2005, Joe was on an independent label in Nashville and released a song from his "Love Train" album,"Jesus and Bartenders" that was written by Larry Cordel and the song made it to No. 80 on the Country Music charts. According to Bonson, the album sold roughly 4,000 copies.
"I was actually moving up the charts pretty good, and I thought it may have a chance to really take off, but in the country music world you have to wind up on the top 30 for things to really take off," said Bonson.
Bonson's exposure due to his small hit did open up a handful of memorable opportunities, though.
"I was getting some recognition. In 2005 I performed at the CMA Festival, I was in CMT Magazine, New York Life magazine, Guitar magazine. We thought things were really going to take off," Bonson said.
Coffee Run's current lineup features Bonson's wife, Wendy, on vocals and harmony; Darren Kauffman, Bonson's right arm man and long-time performing partner, on bass and harmony; Pat Aumiller, who performed professionally in Nashville for 15 years, on lead guitar; Craig Kulow, who travels from Berlin, N.J., on fiddle and mandolin; Lenny Deitz, who began playing the skins as a child, on drums; and Ray Peterman, on steel guitar. Bonson also his considers his father, Jim, a member of the group as he is the band's sound man.
Joe Bonson and the Coffee Run have released a new CD in June that features series of cover songs and two original pieces. The album is called "Lookin' Back" and is available at all of the band's live shows, Toot's, in Reedsville, Amazon.com and the band's website, www.joebonson.com. If the album is purchased at any show, the buyer will receive a free copy of an older album.
The band will be performing at the Shade Gap picnic on Aug. 3 with Darryl O'Donnell; the Carbon County Fair, in Allensville, on Aug. 10 with the Cramer Brothers; and Dec. 7 at the Belleville Community Hall with Remington Ryde. For additional shows, visit the band on the web.
For booking, shows, merchandise and other information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 667-3848.
Dusty W. Sipes can be reached at email@example.com