The Gospel Plowboys Save Souls by Sowing Seeds
By Stephen Pitalo
To be a Gospel Plowboy, there are many requirements, but to sum it up: good Christian first, good musician second.
Formed in 2012 in Salisbury, North Carolina, the Gospel Plowboys decided to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in their own way: dressed in crisp denim bib overalls, starched white shirts and bright red neckties, playing bluegrass in tribute to their savior. The colors deliberately invoke national pride, but circa the 1930s, when bluegrass style music gained popularity as the nation struggled to survive.
“[Founding member] David Murph came up with the name, wanting it in tribute to a time when our country was in a depression,” founding member Michael Jenkins explained. “The people back then pulled through those times and our country grew and prospered again because they clung to God. In these days and times, that’s what we need to get back to. I’ll never forget talking to David on the phone telling him I had decided to join him. Right before we hung the phone up, I asked David, ‘What’s the name of the band?’ David answered, ‘The Gospel Plowboys.’ That’s when I got excited. I thought wow, now that’s catchy!”
According to their credo, the group has standards that each member has to adhere to. First, they must be saved. They must attend church. They must keep a neat appearance. They must strive hard to have great musicianship as well as maintain great three and four part harmonies, but above that, members should live by the band’s motto “Plowing the ground, planting the seed….that Christ died for you.”
“I knew David Murph from several years of playing music together at jams and local get-togethers,” explained founding member Michael Jenkins about the band’s origins. “We also went to church together. David approached me in the spring of 2012 and said that he’d been praying about starting a bluegrass gospel group. I accepted and joined. On August 8th, 2012, the Gospel Plowboys played for the very first time at Safe Harbor Baptist Church in Salisbury. The original line-up consisted of David Murph on mandolin, me on guitar, Andrew Brown on bass and John Goodson on the banjo. David didn’t just pick people who could play and sing. He prayed about every single member. He made sure all were in good standing and involved in a local church.”
Michael explained how David always said, ‘You got to know who your singing about.’ “David had a burden to reach the lost through music. He had a desire to be a blessing to others, but most of all he had a desire to be a blessing to The Lord Jesus Christ. We built the group on vocals. We felt that the words to the songs were important because they tell a story. That’s what we’ve strived on from the very beginning.”
Mostly the band records and plays traditional gospel songs only, with a few exceptions.
“A lot of the material we use are songs from the old red back church hymnals,” Jenkins said. “David’s burden was to bring a lot of those old songs back to life that have been forgotten about. There’s a lot of good songs in those books that people have never heard before. We do throw a few modern songs in and rearrange them. We recorded “Heavenly Train” which was written by David Murph back in the early 90’s. We also recorded “When the Crops are Laid By” written by Ivy Lee Penland. It’s an old song that we found written about a Plowboy and we felt both songs to be in tribute to David and John to include them on our latest album. Songwriting is something we hope to incorporate in the future.”
With each new album, the Gospel Plowboys have added new band members, however the focus has been the same. Murph died in 2017 after a long series of health issues and founding banjo player John Goodson similarly passed in May of last year. Losing David and John tested the Plowboys’ faith and commitment to the group, but they believe that God has pieced their band back together, and their newest album When The Crops Are Laid By is a look back at the past, the loss, and the present, especially when it comes to their identity.
“Andrew Brown and myself are original founding members,” Jenkins explained about the present lineup. “Andrew’s father David Brown joined us on bass shortly thereafter in 2013. Guitarist Kris Miller has been with us since 2014. Charles Honeycut and Alec McCallister joined the band in June of 2019 to fill the vacancies of David Murph and John Goodson.
The complete line up consists of:
Michael Jenkins (Guitar)
Andrew Brown (Mandolin)
Kris Miller (Guitar)
David Brown (Bass)
Charles Honeycut (Banjo)
Alec McCallister (Fiddle)
Calling Salisbury, NC home, the Plowboys usually stay close to home, venturing up and down the east coast from time to time. They’ll play Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville this February for The National Wild Turkey Federation Sportsman Convention, followed by the James Wimmer Bluegrass Festival in Bristol Virginia on March 21st.
And the most important message that the Gospel Plowboys hope to deliver?
“The message of salvation,” Jenkins said. “Jesus loves us, and he died for all.”