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John Lanham.."Graveyard Boogie Band"            The Graveyard Boogie Band
   " Back from the Dead"  Interview by 
Pat Ferris  of

Not quite a year ago, I was introduced to a new 'Internet band' from Jacksonville. The sound was big, VERY Southern, refreshingly new, yet familiar. It was almost as if you were listening to a combination of your favorite all time Southern rock bands.
I took a listen to their entire CD The Boogie Man posting a review in November of last year. After contacting founder John Lanham (aka The Reverend Sam E. Tarry), I found out that the familiar sound was more than likely ingrained in Lanham's songwriting and playing style since childhood, since he was performing in bands with founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special while they were all still in junior high and high school. Revival of the Graveyard Boogie Band happened mainly because of the Internet and the ability for gifted songwriters and musicians to reach the masses that are interested in their specific genre of music. Overwhelming response at has generated over 30,000 downloads, and inspired Lanham to put the pieces back together of a band that barely missed opportunities of fortune by fate and hard luck. I felt his story and how the current incarnation of The Graveyard Boogie Band came to be, was too enticing of story not to feature, and have looked forward to this interview for nearly 12 months.

<HotBands> Hi John. The first place I like to start is at the beginning, to give a chronology of how you got to where you are right now. Where were you first exposed to music, when did you first start playing guitar, etc. ?
<Rev. Sam>
My father was in the U.S. Coast Guard and was a Chief Petty Officer so he usually managed the NCO clubs as well as the commissary(he was a cook). He was a back-woods Georgia “Redneck” but, what a guitar player.(He could play anything from Chet Atkins to Merle Travis and then hit you with some Andre Segovia and Carlos Montoya). He always took care of the music at the clubs so he would gather whatever he could find on the bass and form the band to back him up. When I was 10 he came home one evening from work with an instructional record album called Learn to play the Brushes. It had a round piece of cardboard glued to the back (it simulated the head of a snare drum) and had two brushes. One played the record and followed the direction given. He calls me into the living room and gives me this and tells me to learn it.(to this point, the only world I knew was baseball, although, for some reason unknown to me at the time, Maureen O’Sullivan was starting to look different to me.

So you were exposed to music from the get-go from your father?
 <Rev. Sam> I was! I did as my father ordered, and found myself at the club with my mother by my side. I was scraping these brushes across a piece of cardboard in time to the music. It was actually fun. In 1964, the night The Beatles debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show, my whole world changed!
I remember interviewing another artist that said that exact same thing (about the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show). I wonder how many people that impacted in the same way
 <Rev. Sam> Just about everyone of my generation was impacted in one way or another by The Beatles, but my dad hated them so I had to pretend to like his music instead of the Beatles in order to get him to show me some things musically. I have never learned anything so fast in my life. In 6 months I was playing, somewhat, Beatle songs with other kids who were trying to learn and play. A year later I made my first $10 playing a Coast Guard picnic. That was when I knew that being a professional musician was what I wanted to do. We moved to back Jacksonville Florida which is where my uncle Ray lived, so I got to be with my cousin, Butch Lanham, who played guitar as well. He had an old Silvertone guitar from Sears and the amp was actually in the case. You simply opened it up, stood it up, plugged in and turned it on and you were ready to Rock and Roll. It was just the two of us playing at Thomas Jefferson Teen Club off Bulls Bay Hwy. every Friday night. One day Butch came to the house and said he met a guy who played bass. His name was Leon 'Thumper' Wilkeson. As I understand it, he was called Thumper because he lived in a housing development where all the streets were named for Disney characters and he lived off Bambi Lane and he patted his foot when he played. We went to his house that evening where he had an organ player and a drummer. Man, we had a blast. The next day Butch brought a drummer named Jerry Shelton from Marrietta where we lived. We had a band for a while playing the teen club and churches. When Butch graduated to High School (he was six months older than me) I was stuck at Stilwell Jr. high which is where I met Donnie Vanzant. He was a pretty good singer, and he asked me to play in his band so I did and we had a pretty good time playing the sock-hops and teen clubs.
 <HotBands> So you were playing the local clubs from Jr. high school on with some pretty big names back when they were kids!
 <Rev. Sam> Butch came to the house one day and asked me if I would be interested in forming a band with he and Leon and they were gonna call it  The King James Version and they were going to travel and make some money. I said heck yes. Then, something happened that changed my life forever. Butch bought the new “Tiny Tim” album and brought it to the “Biff Burger” on Lane Ave. where we worked and sat it up on the ice machine. He left before I did and I noticed he left it there. I thought…I’ll just take it home and listen to it and bring it back the next day since Butch was off, and he'd never know. I was listening to it in my bedroom when I could hear my younger sister yelling down the hall “Johnny’s playing hippy music!” Bang! The door opened and it was my redneck father. He grabbed the record off the turntable and broke it over his knee. When Butch came in to work and asked where his album was, I told him I didn’t know. He figured the day guy took it.
 <HotBands> I can relate. I have a father that did the exact same thing to one of my records when I was in high school.
<Rev. Sam>
That night Butch called my house for me but, I wasn’t there and my mom told him what happened to the album. The next morning Butch got on, he walked right up to me, punched me in the eye and kicked me out of the band. I was devastated, and in 1968 I moved to Palmetto Fl. to live with my aunt and uncle. Butch was popular and had an influence on people. When he kicked me out of the band it was hard for me to the point of leaving Jacksonville for a while just as everything was getting started.

I'm wondering why he wasn't more understanding, being your cousin and all...and over a stupid record. So did you keep playing after that first band divorce?

<Rev. Sam>
Yeah. In 1969 I met a blues harp player named Dave York, AKA, Rockbottom. He introduced me to some musicians and we started learning some tunes. We ran an add in the news paper for a drummer as we didn’t know any. One guy resonded to the add. His name was Larry Klophenstein who was a mortician by trade. He pulls up in this 1955 hearse he bought from the funeral home and starts unloading drums. That was the original “Graveyard Boogie Band”. In 1970 I left them and went back to Jacksonville and met back up with Donny Vanzant where we formed a new band. I was a guitar player who could play bass and since there wasn’t a bassist around, I was it. I got a bass and amp from my dad and began playing bass. One day Donnie came to rehearsal and said the bass player in his brother’s band “Lynyrd Skynyrd” was looking to make a change. Donnie and I loaded up in Don Barnes “Hav-A-Tampa Cigar” van and drove to Gainesville Fl. where they were the opening act for “The Blues Image”. When they left the stage Donnie went over and talked to Larry Junstrom and he decided to come and play with us.
We were playing at Art Heisan’s Comic Book Club downtown which was a bottle club that didn’t close until six in the morning. One night while we were on our last brea,k I went into the bathroom to roll myself a joint. I stuck it in the back of my ear and forgot about it. When we finished our set,I walked out on the street to go back to the hotel and a beat cop stopped me and asked me what was behind my ear. Thirty days later I got out of jail with time served. I had one phone call and one friend with a phone so I called him to let the guys know where I was and to pick up my equipment and take it to his room. When I got out, the band was gone and so was my friend. Leon went on to be the bassist in Lynyrd Skynyrd and Donnie went on to form .38 Special. I just traveled around from that day on in different bands and never had those opportunities again.

<HotBands> When Lynyrd Skynyrd got big, where did your music take you? Did you pursue it, or did it take a back seat in your life?

<Rev. Sam> I always pursued it. That sort of music took the back seat and if you weren't already established, no one was interested.

<HotBands> So was it the internet that opened the door for you or do you think that music goes in cycles and that your 'sound' is ripe again? The re-birth of the Graveyard Boogie Band seems to be largely in part to the Internet and the ability to reach a targeted audience for your music. You've had over 30,000 downloads of your music there, and I was wondering what type of inspirational direction that has given you.

<Rev. Sam> Touring is what I propose to do. I have so much money tied up in equipment right now I'm drowning and I can't swim anyway. As far as why the rise in the popularity of our sound is probably a combination of the the fact that Classic Rock stations are springing up every where and Southern Rock is slowly on the rise again.

<HotBands> You started the Graveyard Boogie Band (again) in your basement, but now it's grown into a band. How did that happen?

<Rev. Sam> Well I started the whole thing by simply wanting to record my music I've written over the years for my grandchildren. I put them up on at a suggestion from a friend and I was amazed at the response. Now I have a full band playing this music and we are ready to go. The internet has opened up a whole new world for guys like me. And if it weren't for guys like you no one would know who I was.

<HotBands> Who is in the band, and what do they play, etc?

<Rev. Sam> John Lanham (1st Lead Guitar,Slide and Acoustic Guitars), Ruth Lanham (Bass Guitar), Jaraid Filion (2nd Lead Guitar), John Nimms (Rhythm and 3rd Lead Guitar) and Neal Hersey (Drums). Jaraid is self taught and has been playing in his bedroom for about 7 years. John Nimms has been playing about 10 years but not much else. Ruth has been playing about a year here at home helping me. Neal Hersey has been playing about 17 years in various bands around town.

<HotBands> What is the future direction of the band?

<Rev. Sam> We are getting ready to re-record the CD, and we're writing new material and rehearsing to stay sharp. We hope to go as far as we can go with this. I'd love to have it become a full time endeavor.

<HotBands> Between 1970 and now... were you in original bands, cover bands, or mostly just working the day-gig and supporting a family?

<Rev. Sam> I've played with recording artist Great Bear and have done some studio work. Mostly it was cover and Blues Bands that gave me enough to make a living and feed the family. I retired from the music business in 1993 and got a day-gig.

<HotBands> So you were a full time musician till 1993 and now your back at it again. It's never too late for success, and stories like yours make news because you champion a whole generation of baby-boomers by reliving the music stories of yesteryear.

<Rev. Sam> I hope I can do something good Patrick.

<HotBands> If you have anything to say to readers of our site that may be of inspiration to a band or artist, what would it be?

<Rev. Sam> The same old thing but, probably the best advice one could recieve: Never give up, and give more than you feel you can.

CD review "The Boogie Man" can be found...Here

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