WANT TO GO?
The Putnam County Pickers, with Ryan Cain and the Abels
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Haddad Riverfront Park
INFO: Visit www.liveontheleveecharleston.com__
The Putnam County Pickers
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: St. Timothy's in the Valley, 3434 Teays Valley Road, Hurricane
COST: Admission by donation
INFO: Call 304-562-9325
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steve Hill and Ron Sowell laugh about it all now, but they both think the Putnam County Pickers could have turned into something -- maybe not country music superstardom, but definitely more than they were.
"I think we had a lot of potential," Sowell said. "We just didn't make it."
Gathered together at the home of the band's bassist, Greg Harman, and rehearsing for reunion shows at Live on the Levee Friday and St. Timothy's in Hurricane Saturday, they said they still had a few regrets about that band that came to an end more than 30 years ago.
Hill and Sowell said they were just a little too full of themselves.
"Oh, we were too cool to play that hillbilly s---," Hill said.
"So we said we weren't going to," Sowell added, grinning. "And funny thing: all the gigs dried up."
"It was a stupid career move," Hill said, shaking his head.
The reunion of the popular local '70s band this weekend features a mix of the performers who were part of the group during its roughly eight-year lifespan. John Kessler is flying in from Seattle to play bass. Ammed Solomon is sitting in on drums.
Everybody agrees this is a one-off sort of event.
"We're not getting back together," Sandy Sowell said, though the singer acknowledged there's been some interest since it was announced that Pickers would reunite to help celebrate St. Timothy's in the Valley's 50th anniversary.
The band used to practice there when it was getting started. People at the church remembered and asked the Pickers to come back, though the idea of doing a reunion has been kicked around for years.
"We joked that we wanted to do it before we all got too old and died," Ron Sowell said. "Unfortunately, we were a bit late; we lost Rusty a couple of years ago."
Bassists Rusty Wells died of cancer in 2010.
In the beginning
The Putnam County Pickers formed in 1974 with the Sowells, Hill, Bob Webb, Michael Ivey and David Ziems and then other musicians joining later. The core of the band was Hill and Ron Sowell who performed together before the words Putnam County Pickers were ever uttered.
"We met in a place called the Wrong Place Saloon on Rampart Street in New Orleans," Hill said.
The pair played late nights. Hill went on at 11:30 p.m. Sowell followed at midnight. The two became friends and soon combined their half hour solo sets into an hour-long show.
In New Orleans, Hill and Sowell, along with Ron's then-wife Sandy, met Webb and his wife, who planned to move to West Virginia to start a farm and get back to the land. There was a kind of open invitation for people they knew to come along.
The Sowells had other plans and left for Cincinnati to run The Family Owl, a musical co-op that performed folk music.
"We had 15 or 20 people giving us input." Sandy groaned, "Shoot me now."
Hill, however, decided to give the farm a try.
"I wasn't really into it," he said. "But my girlfriend was."
The Family Owl didn't last, and a few months after Hill arrived at the Putnam County farm, the Sowell's joined him.
"We came to spend the summer and wound up staying," Sandy said.
Life on the farm was loose, chaotic and communal, though definitely "not a commune," Hill said. They shared the land but lived in structures ranging from old farmhouses to the vehicles they drove in with.
The pace was gentle and slow compared to New Orleans.
"We played music at night," Hill said. "And didn't do much else during the day."
"We were just another farm band," Sandy said.