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He calls himself the 'Mayor of Mount Nebo,' but Ben Cooper actually wears plenty of hats. He's also the leader of the Mountain Gap Band whose brand of mountain music packs the old classroom where he once attended school. He's a mandolin and harmonica player, a self-described reformed chicken thief and a comedian who keeps the audience in stitches with his jokes, most at the expense of his wife Janet. He was the first president of the Rocky Branch Community Club and is now its vice president.
Janet Cooper, recognized as the 'First Lady of Mount Nebo' by virtue of Ben's self-proclaimed mayoral title, is the lead vocalist of the Mountain Gap Band. Although she's often the target of her husband's jokes, she more than holds her own. Her hard-driving vocals are perfect for Mountain Gap's brand of mountain music.
Guitarist David Brewer is retired from the U.S. Navy, and usually finds himself a corner in the Coopers' room. Sometimes, he'll step up and sing an old Hank Williams number. No surprise there as he says Hank and Merle is the kind of country music he prefers. He once played in a country band back in the 1970s, but says since his plans to "be like Elvis" didn't pan out, he's content to enjoy his music as a hobby.
A cousin to Janet Cooper, Charlie Ledbetter is Mountain Gap's banjo player. He's been making music for many years and is one of only two surviving members of the Tuckeleechee Travelers bluegrass band.
After serving in World War II, Abe Mogridge took his mustering out pay to buy a guitar, banjo, Victorola and "a bunch of records." Then, he took 'em all back home to the mountains to teach himself how to pick. Today, he's still picking banjo occasionally in the Coopers' room or the Gospel Room. And he is the patriarch of a multi-talented family that also includes sons Ed and Richard. Hear more from him in the documentary about Rocky Branch by clicking the link below.
Ed Mogridge, Abe's eldest son, is comfortable playing dobro, banjo and guitar. He is usually part of the goings-on in the Coopers' room where his dobro adds the plaintive wail to their mountain music. However, he is also known to put the banjo through its paces.
RICHARD 'GURU' MOGRIDGE
Rocky Branch's most colorful character has to be Richard Mogridge, the "Guru" of Rocky Branch. He quickly becomes the favorite of all who enter the old elementary school with his performances of "Got My Mojo Workin'," "My Bucket's Got A Hole in It" and "Your Cheatin' Heart." Although he usually plays a Brazilian instrument called a charango, he also plays guitar, ukelele and piano. He once toured the world as a member of the American Theater Organ Society.
Gray Sartin has just moved to Tennessee from Mobile, Ala., and brought with him a fresh new talent to Rocky Branch. Although he's wowed our fans with his Johnny Cash tribute sound, he's also a real bluesman and is a member of the Burning Time Band and the Atlanta-based Fedora Blues Band.
Mike Harrill is a multi-talented musician with the Madisonville, TN-based Notchey Creek Bluegrass Band. He plays mandolin, upright bass, harmonica as well as sings.
If Rocky Branch has a designated Irish tenor, it would be Lon Spurgeon. Minister of Smoky Mountain Church of Christ in Maryville, Lon is a skilled fiddler and guitarist. He leans more toward folk songs, but is also known to cut loose yodeling on some old Western swing tunes. Oh, he also plays the native American flute and has cut an album featuring the flute.
Chuck Howell is one of the many ministers who enjoy jamming at Rocky Branch. An associate pastor at Grandview Baptist Church just up the road from the old Rocky Branch Elementary, Howell is a guitarist and singer who enjoys the old country classics. Our favorite to hear from Chuck? "Working Man Blues."
DAVID 'WALLEYE' PARKER
One of Rocky Branch's promising young fiddlers is Frank Bronson, a member of a group called Check Engine. Frank's bowing style looks, to us anyway, like how one might expect Joe Cocker to fiddle. An accomplished singer as well, he is one to watch.
DR. MIKE SINGLETARY
A retired journalism professor at the University of Tennessee where he was dean, Dr. Mike Singletary can be found in the Fiddle Room most Friday nights. He enjoys the reels, rags and hoedowns of old-time music, but is also known to enjoy a little John Denver too. A collector of fiddles, he also has dabbled in the luthier arts.
The 'leader' of the Fiddle Room, Steve Loveday is one whose love of the fiddle comes through each time his bow crosses the strings. He's also an accomplished singer who is the one to turn to when you want to hear "Sitting On Top of the World."
HAROLD 'PEANUT' INMAN
The main upright bass player in the Fiddle Room, Bill Proffitt is a retired banker/restaurateur whose first love is music. Bill, who resides in Gatlinburg, is also a member of the Riverstone Bluegrass Band which performs on Saturday nights at the Riverstone Restaurant in Townsend.
Richard Blevins, the lead guitarist for the Coopers' Mountain Gap Band, hails from Robbinsville, N.C. but is one of Rocky Branch's main ambassadors. Known for his quick smile, he's also a gifted singer and has written songs as well.
Banjo player Jay Tipton is a local boy from Townsend who works as a trail guide for the National Park Service by day but is a bluegrass force by night. His high tenor voice is perfectly suited for his style of bluegrass. "Jaybird," as he is often called, is a member of the Walking in Tradition band but is known to join in whenever and wherever somebody needs a good picker and singer.
Bill is one of Rocky Branch's adopted "Yankees," leaving his Michigan home behind several months a year to come enjoy life in the Great Smoky Mountains. He's been coming here for a decade now. Whenever he's here, he can be found in the Coopers' room where he plays the hammered dulcimer - an instrument he fell in love with 60 years ago.
Sherman Holt is a self-taught fiddle player who made his own fiddle - a pretty little blonde number. You'll find him in the Gospel Room where he enjoys playing and singing the old-time hymns.
If you want to see one of the world's best guitar pickers, watch Jim Lethgo. Jim is Rocky Branch's high-octane troubador, traveling from room to room with his mighty Martin guitar which he plays with authority regardless of which kind of music is being played.
Another one of those Madisonville, TN pickers is Harley Millsaps. A member of Notchey Creek Bluegrass, he plays guitar and sings -- and is well known in these parts of "The Possum Song," a hilarious tune that borrows from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Self-taught, he's been playing guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass for 50 years. His favorite though is his Martin guitar. He also owns his own music store in the Sweetwater Flea Market Mall.
JAMES DILLON EVANS
Dillon is a 14-year-old who took up the banjo in the winter of 2011 soon after his family moved from Mobile, Ala., to Kodak, Tenn. He took to the instrument like a duck to water, and is considered one of the best young pickers at Rocky Branch. He's already making a living as one of Gatlinburg's street musicians.
Bro. Mike Mikels is one of several preachers who pick at Rocky Branch. His instrument of choice -- upright bass. You'll find him most Friday evenings in a corner of the Coopers' room where he's slapping out the rhythm for the Mountain Gap band. But there's more to him than meets the eye -- he's also been known to do a little blues bass, too.
Scott is the father of two extremely talented youngsters -- 16-year-old Matthew who plays mando and guitar and 9-year-old Emma who sings and plays guitar and mandolin. Scott, meanwhile, also serves as leader of the family's band -- the Chilhowee Mountain Band -- along with wife Deborah.
Easily the youngest picker at Rocky Branch, 5-year-old Isaac can be found in The Coopers' Room where he gets plenty of encouragement with learning the mandolin. He's still learning, but he's pickin' up some dance moves from "Guru."
Ah, yes, Carl... the transplanted Cajun from New Orleans. Franklin is an accomplished bluegrass musician who plays both guitar and upright bass, and a gifted vocalist (check out his version of 'In the Pines'). Carl moves from room to room at Rocky Branch, but he's well-known in the Coopers' room where he likes to tell his Cajun jokes in a thick Cajun accent.
Rodney Worley, the lead singer and mandolin player for Jay Tipton's Walking in Tradition band, actually lives in Georgia. But whenever he gets the chance to jam, you'll find him at Rocky Branch jamming with Jay and others whose preference is traditional bluegrass.