A Father’s Love, His Kids & Bluegrass
by Shelby C. Berry
Often, seasoned bluegrass musicians pass their love for the music down to their kids and grandkids. One “passing down” story tells of Billy Murphy and his kids, JoJo, Landen, and Jacob – a family band from Richland, North Carolina. The story builds after Billy’s heart attack over four years ago as he pondered the important things in life: music and playing that music with his kids.
“We gave them instruments for Christmas to see if they would be interested in playing,” said Billy.
Billy had been out of music for almost 15 years. He had learned guitar when he was eight years old. After graduating college, he got a banjo and played with the New River Gospel Singers.
Flash forward to today, Billy uses his past love and experience to teach his kids to play and sing bluegrass. They document this learning journey on their Facebook page and invite listeners to follow along as they grow in their music.
Naming themselves Billy and the Kids Bluegrass, 12-year-old JoJo is learning mandolin while 10-year-old Landon and 7-year-old Jacob learn the bass and the fiddle, respectively.
“I really like when we first started playing on stage,” said JoJo. “There was a lot more people to play for!”
Heavily influenced by Rhonda Vincent and Williamson Branch, fellow members of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars, Billy and the Kids Bluegrass credit much of their enjoyment in the music to the people they’ve met within the bluegrass community.
“It’s a very different atmosphere at bluegrass festivals and shows,” said Billy. “Bluegrass is like a big family, and everyone acts like they’ve known you forever.”
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road hosted a Bill Monroe’s ol’ mandolin contest, and the band won ten mandolin lessons with Steve Dilling, a founding member of Sideline.
“Getting my new mandolin at Lorraine’s Coffee House during the contest was so memorable. I came in third place and won lessons from Steve Dilling, and the first-place winner gave me her mandolin!” said JoJo.
As they learn to play more instruments and grow into their music, Billy and the Kids Bluegrass are developing their sound. Harmony lessons have helped Billy and JoJo hone their singing skills. Since they have no banjo, the sound resembles folk more than bluegrass, but “maybe one day one of the boys will play the banjo!” said Billy.
In 2019, President John Colburn asked them to become members of Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars. Last spring, they participated in the hugely successful TBS run online bluegrass festival.
“The festival introduced them to other young artists,” said Billy. “They made lifelong friends, and to see them grow up in the music pursuing their dream is such a good thing. That’s the future. If there wasn’t someone to help them stay interested, there would be some that wouldn’t stay in it. It’s a good push. I didn’t have anyone to push me when I was young. If I had had a circle of people, it would have been a lot better!”
As they move forward, Billy really savors the time that he spends with his kids on their music.
“I love teaching them music! Sometimes, I wish we could jump right into a song, but I love teaching them. It’s like I’m giving a bit of myself to them. It’ll always be with them as long as they play,” said Billy.
By summer’s end Billy and the Kids Bluegrass want to record their first album which includes a lot of originals, something in which they take deep pride at such an early age. Also, their focus is on participating in upcoming music festivals and in August they hit the stage with Cumberland County Lions at Lorraine’s.