Jeff Kramer started playing piano in the early 60’s. His sister Julie had a Kay jazz guitar that sparked his interest in stringed instruments and he has been playing them ever since. He played for 6 years in the late 70’s with the Eastridge Bros. and country grass on banjo and fiddle. Later groups he played with included bass and banjo with the Camelback Minstrels, banjo for the Front Porch Boys in the early days, and banjo with the Borderline String Band. He plays bass, banjo and guitar with the Lawrence Family band when needed. And now, full circle, back to the Front Porch Boys on upright bass. Jeff is a self employed luthier in Burlington, WI and builds banjos, guitars, and other stringed intruments under the Cloverlick Stringed Instruments brand.
Banjoist Tom Nowlin started at age 13 on a borrowed Kay, learning Scruggs rolls off records played at half speed. Nowadays, his driving Gibson Granada and vocal work keep everything moving – usually at full speed – or better. Tom says: "I grew up listening to bluegrass, and it made a definite impression on me. My father was a minister, and to save money, he used to cut our hair. He'd do it on Saturday nights, and while we were getting our hair cut, we'd listen to The Grand Old Opry on the radio. I especially enjoyed listening to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, String Bean, and Grandpa Jones. On Saturday evening, I looked forward to the Flatt and Scruggs TV Show. I used to sit up close and try to see what Earl was doing with his hands.
When I was 13, a family came to our church. The dad played the banjo, two finger style. He had an old Kay banjo, and loaned it to me for a few weeks. I plucked around on it until I could pick out "Wildwood Flower." I used $40 from my paper route to buy a Silvertone from Sears and Roebuck. I began buying Flatt and Scruggs records. I played them at half speed until I could pick out the notes and melodies they were playing. After about a year, I traded in the Silvertone for a Gibson. That was 1964.
My role models in bluegrass include Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and J.D. Crowe. I was able to see Flatt and Scruggs three times, while I was growing up. I was always fascinated by Earl Scruggs' playing. His banjo had that "popping sound" that I liked. I have a 1964 Gibson RB-250 with bow tie inlays. After playing it for 40 years, I finally had a chance to buy a Gibson Granada 2003, from Curtis McPeake. It sounds like I always wanted a banjo to sound.
My third banjo is a 2002 Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard, which I was able to re-furbish. Can a banjo picker ever really have too many banjos?"
George Lawrence on mandolin was born in East Tennessee and moved north to Kenosha, WI in 1949. George says: “I didn't know much about bluegrass but I knew I loved the sound of 5-string banjos, mandolins, and fiddles. Growing up I listened to The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, and Chuck Berry, among many others. In the early 90's I started teaching myself 5-string banjo: I couldn't get enough of it. Since then I formed the Lawrence Family Band with my three daughters and my wife. I've taught myself dobro, and mandolin (I play a l994 Czech made Krishot F5 style), and besides owning an HD-28 Martin guitar I now have a D-18 Golden Era Martin guitar. One of the most exciting moments for me in music was when my daughters Beth and Melissa and I won the trio/quartet gospel singing competition at the State of Tennessee Official Fiddler's Convention in Smithville, TN in l997. All three girls occasionally return home to play as the Lawrence Family.
Besides playing mandolin with the Front Porch Boys, I have been teaching bluegrass mini courses in guitar, mandolin, banjo, and jam sessions, for the last several years at the University of WI Parkside.
Greg Spencer met Clark Speck (founding member of the Front Porch Boys) when he moved to Waukesha and began attending the Waukesha Church of Christ where Greg is a minister. Greg: "I learned he was a luthier and worked at White House Music. He also told me that he played bluegrass music and is the leader of The Front Porch Boys. The more I got to know Clark, the more intrigued I became with bluegrass music. We decided to sponsor a monthly Bluegrass Jam at the Church building. I didn't know a lot about it, but I wanted to play so I purchased an upright bass and began to practice Bluegrass Gospel songs. Finally when the Front Porch Boys played at our church for a Christmas party last year, I got hooked. Then when Jim (former bassist) left the group, and Clark asked me if I would be interested in joining The Front Porch Boys, I was thrilled to accept.
When I was a kid, I sang rock & roll music in garage bands. At 16 my voice changed and I couldn't sing so I picked up electric bass, I got to be pretty good at it and played and sang background in a lot of local bands and did some studio work.
While I was a Rock bassist I was drawn to Progressive groups like Cream, Hendrix, and Traffic who's music involved improvisation. From there I embraced Blues and Jazz and was inspired by bassists like Red Mitchell, Jack Bruce, Malcolm Pool, Willie Dixon and Ray Brown.
Playing upright bass as opposed to electric was quite a switch for me. The ergonomics, the hand positions, and the angles are all different but the tunings and the esthetics are the same and cross over pretty well. Nothing can compare with the percussive elements and the glissandos that are possible with a fretless instrument. And then there's the bow……shame on me, did I say that?"
In this day and age of music made famous by movies, and country crossover artists,
The Front Porch Boys take pride in bluegrass authenticity. Audiences are immediately drawn in
by the tight harmonies, fast, swinging picking and southbound train rhythm that takes you right
to the heart and soul of bluegrass - the music made famous by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley,
Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe and Doyle Lawson.
Based in Southeast Wisconsin, The Front Porch Boys Bluegrass Band creates a sound that takes you back to a place in time, a place in your mind, maybe somewhere you've never been before, but a place you think you know. After all, the songs are about the basic stuff of life - love, death, family, friendship, loneliness, and the promise of a better life to come.
Y’all come !