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For the Love of Bluegrass

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By KEN BECK
The Wilson Post

Picking and harmonizing for more than 30 years, Lebanons One Way Out will perform two sets Saturday at the 10th annual Uncle Jimmy Thompson Bluegrass Festival during Granvilles Heritage Day, an event the band has never missed.

The current version of the group includes lead singer Eddie Testamand on rhythm guitar, baritone Mike Singleton on banjo and guitar, tenor Marty Denton on bass and guitar, baritone Phillip Ryan on mandolin and Winston McPeak on bass.

The band has seen a lot of changes over the years with several musicians coming and going and even had a name change, but the bonds of friendship and the love for old-time music remain constant.

Were a traditional bluegrass and gospel band. We do your Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and Stanley Brothers, Singleton said. Weve all been friends for a long time, and we all have the same love for the music. Im a banjo picker, but I love singing, too. I like doing something on stage but just as soon be out there jamming.

We dont really consider ourselves professionals. We just play for the love of the music and enjoy playing local events to benefit our community and promote bluegrass music, said Testamand, who with Singleton are the two remaining charter members of the band, while original member Lamar Cannon sits in from time to time.

We do Granville every year. We go to a lot of repeat places like the Smithville Jamboree and Uncle Dave Macon Days, Testamand said. Our biggest event is the Wilson County Fair. We are the house band for the Back Porch Stage in Fiddlers Grove. We love Fiddlers Grove. Its a wonderful stage with great acoustics. Its our home stage almost and where we draw our biggest crowds.

As for Saturdays performance in Granville, the music fest will be a bit different this year, Singleton said.

Well have three different bands play twice each. Its still the Jimmy Thompson Bluegrass Festival but not a competition, he noted.

(Old-time fiddler Thompson was the first entertainer to perform on The Grand Ole Opry in late 1925. He was born near Granville and later lived in the Wilson County community of LaGuardo. His well house and garage have been relocated to Granville in the past year and there will be a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday.)

One Way Outs roots go back to 1981 or 1982 when Singleton, Testamand and Cannon got to picking at informal jams held on Thursday evenings at Ben Johnsons B Sharp Music store in Lebanon.

They were starting to have a few festivals around, and we were going and jamming, me and Eddie and Lamar and the guys. Then they held a band contest at Cedar Fest at Baird Park. We thought wed get in there, and we didnt have a name, Singleton recalled.

Thus, Copenhagen Express was born with Singleton, Cannon, Testamand, Steve Frizzell, Woody Hawkins and, on occasion, Ronnie Rogers. They placed second in the contest.

Since the early days, the group has performed on bills with such bluegrass legends as Ralph Stanley, the Osborne Brothers and Jim and Jesse, but their biggest thrill may have come in their own back yard when they opened a show at Cedars of Lebanon State Park for the late Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass.

The band took on a new name in the late 1980s due to a conflict of conscience.

We were all tobacco lovers back in those days, Testamand recalled of Copenhagen Express. We started to sing gospel music and had several churches in different counties inviting us to come and play. We thought this is not good. So that is how the change came about. We pretty much gave up the chewing and dipping. We got a little older and wiser, so we quit. We felt better about doing our music at churches and funerals and being a better example for the bluegrass industry.

One Way Out plays at numerous local functions such as weddings, funerals, picnics, fish fries, school events, Christmas parties and an annual Boy Scout chili cook-off fundraiser, while Singleton has served on the Wilson County Fair Board for 20 years and lines up the entertainment each August for the Back Porch Stage.

The 41-year veteran with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, who does geographic mapping, first picked up a guitar at 16.

My daddy sang and emceed in a band, The Tennessee Corn Choppers, that played three-room schools in the 50s. So this is kinda in my blood. One of his friends showed me a few chords on a guitar. I was in my middle 20s when I started playing banjo, said the multi-instrumentalist whose musical influences also include Flatt & Scruggs, Hank Williams Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers.

Testamand, a mechanic for Texas Eastern for 35 years, received a guitar from his wife Connie when he was 24, and said, Mikes been my teacher, and what Ive picked up from other players at festivals. I never was that musically inclined with an instrument.

While he loves bluegrass, Testamand also enjoys the old gospel standards such as Just a Little Talk With Jesus and Get in Line Brother.

The bands most requested tunes include Keep on the Sunny Side, Blue Moon of Kentucky and West Virginia Girl.

We get a lot of gospel requests. Sometimes we take the last half hour of the show and do all gospel. We have really become a gospel group almost as much as a bluegrass group, Testamand said.

He and Singleton, members of the Lebanon High School class of 1970, have formed strong ties through their mutual love of music and over the past 10 years have driven to the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival each June in Bean Blossom, Ind., where they pick, sing and grin along with thousands of other bluegrass enthusiasts.

However, their bluegrass journeys also have also carried them to South America and the Big Apple.

In 1990, we went to the southern end of Peru, almost to Chile, for this folk dance festival, Singleton said. There was a square dance group, the Tennessee Flat Footers, they needed a band to go with them. So me and Eddie and Jim Woods, who played fiddle, went there for about 10 days.

There were people from the Soviet Union, Mexico and South America countries that did their native dances. We would get together and kinda pick together. We played bluegrass with a xylophone. We were playing and I sang Tennessee Waltz, and they went crazy. Everybody knew it. Theres one thing about music. Its international. There are no boundaries, Singleton said.

In 2011, Singleton and Testamand drove to New York City in conjunction with a performance by the Lebanon High School band. Singleton decided to see if there were any bluegrass jams in the big town.

I found one in Greenwich Village at a place called the Grizzly Pear. We went out there on a bus across river and rode the subway with our guitar and banjo. When we walked in, the first people we talked to was from Tennessee. We picked there for four or five hours. That was an experience, he said.

As for the satisfaction of playing with One Way Out for over four decades, Testamand said, The music is the biggest thrill. I love bluegrass music. Within bluegrass pickers, its just like a church group. You become a family. You share the same interests, and big name bluegrass pickers dont seem to be above anybody.

Were all a family together in the bluegrass world. I like the acoustic instruments especially because when you got a person thats really a fantastic guitar picker or mandolin picker, hes showing his true talent, and he dont have to have it amplified. The Lord has blessed us in a lot of ways to just be a shade-tree bluegrass group that loves music, said the singer-guitarist.

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