By Dustin Turner
Sometimes inspiration can be found in the face of tragedy. That happened for Kenny George, Scott Rankin and the members of the Aiken-based Kenny George Band after drummer Bucky Brown died while working in Nashville, Tennessee. A full-time truck driver, Brown was 54 years old.
Brown’s death hit the band hard, but in that time of tragedy, the musicians found inspiration and realized that they were also inspiring others.
Vocalist/songwriter Kenny George and steel guitarist Center Ely were performing in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina when they heard the news of Brown’s death on July 26. “People just showed up that night at the venue,” Rankin says. “They stopped what they were doing, left wherever they were and came to show support. Kenny and Center were devastated, and people just showed up.”
The outpouring of love from friends, fans and other musicians that night was overwhelming, Rankin said. “Kenny and Center were almost four hours away, but the people there felt such a connection to Bucky and the band that they said it was where they felt the need to be.”
George said he was devastated by the news of his friend’s passing.
“We were absolutely in shock for at least the next 12 hours after that. All of our friends that play up there just gathered at an apartment after the show and listened to music and tried to figure out what we were going to do from there.”
The next morning, some of those friends and fans drove George and Ely home.
The Kenny George Band was hit hard by the death of their colleague and friend. They were inspired, though, to see how their friends, fans and even colleagues in the music business were affected.
“We heard from a lot of people after that. The calls, the text messages, the social media posts – they weren’t boilerplate stuff,” Rankin said. “It was very sincere. People were deeply affected.”
Rankin said he and the band members always try to engage their fans and talk to the people who come to see them.
“I tell the guys in the band all the time that if you see someone is a fan and enjoying the show, make contact with them,” Rankin said, “and they will see you are not just a good band but good people, and they will push the music and feel invested.”
Brown took that concept a step further. They often had to find him after a show to help with load-out because he would spend hours talking to fans.
“Bucky had an impact on people, he made them feel special,” Rankin said. “We heard from so many people that he affected. He affected people deeply that he only met one time and it was powerful to hear from all those people.”
George echoed that sentiment, “To this day people come up and talk about how they played with him in junior high or how he had a big impact on them. Almost every day, someone comes up and pays respects or tells you a cool story.”
Brown didn’t have life insurance, so the Kenny George Band did what it does best – it put on a show. Rankin helped coordinate a benefit concert at Sky City in Augusta. On Aug. 9, Kenny George Band and another four local bands performed. The night included a raffle for a guitar and a silent auction. Small businesses in Aiken and Augusta donated the guitar and merchandise and services for the auction. They raised almost $2,000 on a Wednesday night for their friend.
People from all over were inspired to attend, which Rankin said was very moving. Musicians from other bands from Myrtle Beach and Charleston and Athens showed up to remember their friend and colleague. “People drove four to five hours the day of the memorial, just to be there…We’ve been afforded this unique and amazing opportunity to become close friends with bands trying to do the same thing we’re doing.”
Some unexpected fundraising began the night before the Sky City show when George went to play his weekly acoustic set at Playoffs Sports Bar.
“My friends here in town had already come in and set up everything. All I had to do was show up and play. They even put out a donation box for Bucky. Some of the band members came out and helped. We raised $400 on a Tuesday night.”
From those two shows and a GoFundMe page that Rankin set up on the night of Brown’s death, they raised about $10,000 for Brown’s family.
Inspired to Continue
The decision for the band to move on wasn’t easy.
“We didn’t immediately know what to do or what we should do,” George said. “He was the first drummer I ever played with at about age 15. After he passed, it was pretty hard for me to figure out what we should do.”
Rankin said he urged the band to continue because he knew Brown would want that. After all, Brown shared the same inspiration as the rest of the gu: original music. “It’s not about just being the center of attention and entertaining people. It’s all about the original music. The reason we’re doing it is that we feel like it’s what we have to do. Bucky and I talked all the time about how this is the best thing we’ve been a part of and something we believe the most in.”
Brown was passionate about what the band did and that inspired the group to get back to making music. And when it came to original music, Brown didn’t hesitate to let George know where he stood.
“There were a couple of shows in Augusta where we only did a few original songs in a three-hour set,” George recalled. “Bucky pulled me aside afterward and asked what the problem was. He said, ‘Everything you write is better than this cover stuff. That’s what we need to be doing.” He was pushing me to play my stuff even when we were teenagers, and it was bad and awkward. Remembering that kind of thing put a fire under me lately to get back out there and play original music.”
Rankin added that the simple answer is that Brown would want the band to move on. “If we stopped after his death, it would piss him off so much. He knew you have to take your lumps in this business. It wouldn’t be honoring his memory if we didn’t get back out there and play when we were ready. It would be such an injustice not to keep going,” Rankin said.
With five people who knew each other so well, the Kenny George Band did not have to practice a lot – even new, original songs. “We developed a connection that transcends anything else,” Rankin said. “Nobody else can do what we do when we play our music, especially our original music. And that’s what’s going to get people connected within the band and to the band.”
Brown’s family has also inspired the Kenny George Band to keep doing what it loves. They assured them that Brown would want the music to continue. At a recent concert, “his whole family came out to see us and they were really sweet and supportive,” George said. “So we are getting back in the swing of things and figuring out how we are going to go forward.”
For the band to continue, however, it would need a new drummer. They didn’t have to look far – Augusta musician Dave Mercer, mostly known for the band Sibling String, was inspired to reach out and offer his services. Mercer started practicing with the band and it was a good fit.
“Dave loves the original stuff and Buck’s style of drumming,” George explained, “and he is gung-ho about all the original stuff. There are plenty of hired guns out there who can play drums, but finding someone who is passionate about our music and about us as a band is about as good as it gets.”
The band recently released the studio LP Borrowed Trouble and George plans to have another album written in the next year. He was even inspired to write a song about Brown. “Everybody had these stories about Bucky and he was happy to do a favor for you and never held it over your head.”
George has played the song a few times in concert. Matt Williams, of the Athens band Pickled Holler even wrote a song about Brown. George said he hopes to release the two songs digitally sometime soon.Brown’s presence is felt every time the band hits the road, George said. “Bucky pretty much built the truck we tour in. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time we get in the truck or on the road when we won’t think about Bucky. We know we are doing what we always wanted to do and what he would want us to do.”
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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