Boys to Men

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BOYS TO MEN

by Stephen Pitalo

All the boys in the Finley River Boys band were wide-eyed early adopters of their surrounding sounds.

“I grew up in the Assemblies of God Church in Colorado Springs,” bandleader, vocalist, bassist Brad Reynolds said.

“I had some fantastic choir directors and group leaders in the church that invested their time, teaching me music. I am the only one in my immediate family who has pursued music.”

Reynolds admitted that all his past experiences have come together to help him understand the workings of a professional touring group. Brad now sings and plays upright bass for the Finley River Boys, sharing vocals with FRB guitarist Bill Crider, fiddle/mandolin player Brett Dudenhoeffer, and banjo/mandolin player Alan Johnston.

Reynolds commented that his first ‘professional’ groups were during his college days at Southwestern Assemblies of God Bible College.

“There I toured nationally with the Harvesters to all the major Christian events around the country,” he elaborated. “This experience taught me how to blend and sing harmony, using my voice within a group to make the music come to life. It was also where I learned that a song is not just a song, but a story to be told. After my time with the Harvesters, I founded Free Spirit, where I learned the lessons of hard knocks, as I had to learn how to book the band, arrange food, lodging, touring, as well as the music, while keeping the band morale up.”

Reynolds had just begun playing bass and visiting local jams in Missouri when a group asked him to fill in for a gig, for one night only. 

“Dennis & Millie Donohoe had a group that needed a bass player, and jokingly said — yet still serious — that I would be hired and fired the same night! That was 2013 and I am still going,” he laughed.

“The band has changed considerably since then; members, genre, and name to become the Finley River Boys that we are today. This group has been together playing Bluegrass for the past 7 years, and I am proud of each and every one of them for their accomplishments.”

Like Reynolds, the other members of the band seem to have come to bluegrass in their youth, and then poured on the gas in their performing career to tremendous success before the Finley River Boys experience. Crider started playing guitar at age 8 with his family’s band in Southern Illinois, eventually joining Rex Allen Jr.’s backup group, “the New Men of the West”. With this group, Bill toured and sang backup vocals for Rex, as well as fellow Western Music Hall of Famer, Johnny Western, Charlie Rich Jr. Bix Crary, and Lacy J. Dalton. Bill later relocated back to the Midwest, settling in the Heart of the Ozarks, Springfield, MO, and currently sings and plays guitar for the Finley River Boys.

Taking up the fiddle at age 4, Dudenhoeffer started making public appearances when he was six years old, and he recorded his first album. A childhood of performing led him down a path that included guest appearances on the Mickey Gilley Show and the Joey Riley Show in Branson.  He has quite an association with the national anthem, as he has played the National Anthem to open Missouri State University’s basketball games as well as the Springfield Cardinals baseball games for the last two years. Dudenhoeffer has also played in the Possum Holler Fiddlers, a young fiddle group from Missouri that has performed at the White House in 2012 and 2014. In the last eight years, he has recorded five full-length albums as a solo act.

Johnston started playing guitar at ten years old, switching to a banjo with his family’s Bluegrass Gospel band, playing throughout the Mid-South Missouri region. He served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, and played guitar in Church Ministries, and started doing more tech work; organizing Talent Shows at military bases and grade schools. After his military service, Johnston moved back to the Ozarks to pursue his love of bluegrass music. He enjoys playing banjo and guitar with bands like Route 66 and the Lost Hill Bluegrass Band, both from Springfield. He leads Bluegrass Gospel Church in Ozark and plays guitar for other services.

Despite the pandemic, the Finley River Boys have rehearsal every Tuesday night, polishing existing material and working up new tunes.

“We are also preparing for our 2022 Finley River Boy Cruise Spectacular with Carnival Cruise Lines, sailing February 14, 2022,” he said. “We have done some internet performances, as well as weekly Facebook uploads to stay active and in front of our fans.  As I mentioned earlier, we are like family and have periodic game nights and get-togethers (just us) to keep the bond strong.”

While Reynolds truly loves playing their original song “Bluegrass Hammer Down” because it speaks to the band’s life on the road, he loves playing their cover of “Wayfaring Stranger.”

“We really have a unique arrangement, both musically and vocally, of this classic song and get so many requests for it. Definitely my favorite.”

Reynolds recalled his most touching and humbling experience playing was in Springfield at Elfindale Nursing Home for a Christmas show.

“We put together gift bags for all the attendees, with cookies, candies, holiday trinkets, and stuffed animals,” Reynolds recalled. “They so loved that, and one lady in particular just hugged me and hugged me, saying this was the first Christmas gift she had received in years.  As we went back each year, she never failed to walk me to her room to show the collection of animals she had received from us. That just really touched my heart.  It really is the small things that can make the biggest impact.” The band had gone there, hoping to bless others, but in the end, they received the biggest blessing.

“I do remember driving 13 hours to a festival in Alabama. We spent the night at the hotel and a terrible storm came through overnight and was still storming all the next morning. We were there ready to go, huddling under tents and awnings.” The event, Reynolds added, had to be called off for safety, but they’re returning this fall and praying for no rain.

“I would have to say that what I take most from Finley River Boys, is that a band is not just a band, but a family,” he concluded. “Each member adds great value to not only our music but our lives.” The commitment the ‘boys’ have to the group “created this close-knit bond and opened the door to many great events and people.”