The Bare Foot Texans (left to right): Chad Rocker, lead guitar; Justin "JJ" Jones, lead vocals; lead bass, Josh Smith; and drummer Adam Hall. The members of this local band all hope to follow in the successful footsteps of another group that got their start in Hopkins County, Fair To Midland. The Southern rock performers take the stage tomorrow night at Buffalo Joe's in Paris.
Staff Photo By Patti Sells

Sole Music

The music of the Bare Foot Texans takes listeners on a stroll through the back roads and bridges of Hopkins County

By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer

July 25, 2008 - Flip flops, tennis shoes, cowboy boots: whatever their foot wear may be, Bare Foot Texans are kicking up fun in pasture parties and making a name for themselves with Southern rock performances on stages throughout Northeast Texas.

"It's like country music thrown in a blender with Lynyrd Skynyrd," said bass player Josh Smith, describing the group's music style. "It's a lot of fun, especially now when they (their fans) come to hear us play at the clubs and they know our songs and they're singing along. That's pretty cool."

The young band, consisting of one 2005 graduate and three 2007 graduates of Sulphur Springs High School, have been working together less than a year and already have eight original songs, Hopkins County being the subject of several.

"Being from around here it's a good way to catch people's attention," said the groups lead vocalist, Justin Jones, better known as "JJ," who writes most of the songs with the help of Chad Rocker, the lead guitarist. "I write about what I know.

"And Sulphur Springs is about all I know," he added with a laugh.

Lyrics from titles such as "Sulphur Springs National Anthem," "Walls" and "Highway 69," written in the Mahoney Bottoms, have friends, family and fans listening for familiar names, places and experiences.

"Sulphur Springs National Anthem" takes you down the back roads and bridges of the county where boredom spawns dreams of fame and ultimately produce words of artistic expression.

"Walls," a song about getting out of Hopkins County, is fast becoming a local favorite. As the song progresses, wondering what's on the other side of the symbolice "walls" and wishing for bigger and better things, the young men gain an awareness, appreciation and even affection for the hometown they one day hope to escape.

"With music, you can get away with speaking your mind on certain things that you normally couldn't in everyday conversation," said Rocker, who also plays harmonica. "You're hometown is a place you love to hate, but you really can't ever forget about the people who helped you get your start. It really is kind of a love/hate relationship."

All four band members said they would relish the opportunity to make a career out of doing what they enjoy so much. But in the meantime, each works at various occupations around town.

Drummer Adam Hall, the 2005 graduate and son of Dennis and Melonie Findley, recently earned his basic peace officer certificate upon completion of the East Texas Police Academy.

"I've been beating on stuff my whole life," he said, (with his drum sticks, that is). "Music is a great way to get to know people. I would never have got to know these guys otherwise, and I've never had so much fun in my life."

"Some people might think we're silly to try to make a living at it," said Rocker, the son of John and Tammy Rocker. "But I look at it like a challenge, and if we can make a little money, have fun and maybe go somewhere with it, why not? It could happen."

Bare Foot Texans wouldn't be the first band to successfully come out of Sulphur Springs. Fair To Midland, founded by members Andrew Sudderth (vocals) and Cliff Campbell (guitars) of Sulphur Springs formed around 1998. The band signed a deal in April 2006 with Serjical Strike records, founded by System of a Down frontman , and released their first album, "Fables From a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times is True," in 2007, selling more than 50,000 copies. They've since spent much of their time touring the U.S. and Europe, helping build a stronger audience with their kinetic live performances.

"Yea, it'd be great to follow in their footsteps," said Josh, a distant relation to FTM bass player John Dicken, who joined the group in 2006. "They've helped us out a lot, gave us some good deals on some of their old equipment and let us use some of their stuff."

Studio 222, located downtown at 222 Main St., has also been beneficial to helping Bare Foot Texans get things going.

"They're good about giving us studio time, sound equipment and helping us set up for shows sometimes, making sure everything sounds good," Josh explained.

Josh, the 19-year-old son of Robin Palmer and Dale Smith, both of Sulphur Springs, got his first bass his freshmen year of high school, but began much earlier, at age 8, playing the fiddle with his grandfather, Joe Smith, better known locally as, "Fiddlin' Joe Smith."

"He had a bluegrass music store here in town for a lot of years and taught lessons," Josh explained. "I always wanted to play the guitar, but he said I had to learn to play the fiddle first."

After semi-successfully accomplishing that feat, Josh finally began learning to play guitar.

"He gave me two guitar lessons then was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1999," Josh recalled, crediting him for his love of music.

Josh was not only left with fond memories of his Grandpa, but his guitar, fiddle and electric organ, as well -- all of which he can play.

"I really can't play the fiddle too good any more," he said. "But I've still got it and carry it around with me in my trunk. I mess around with it some."

Josh said he has thought more seriously lately about brushing up on his fiddle playing skills and incorporating the sound into some of their music.

"For that Texas style, just like the song says, 'You gotta have a fiddle in the band,'" he added with a laugh as he picked on his guitar.

Throughout high school, Josh helped lead praise and worship at various churches in the community such as The Gathering, Lake Pointe, Shannon Oaks, and more recently First Baptist youth service on Wednesday nights.

Adam Hall also has some experience in the music industry, having lived in Austin for a period of time after high school graduation where he played with a group called Kiss Me Kate.

Rocker and JJ both picked up the guitar around age 12, and their experience consists mainly of jamming at parties with friends. The venues have expanded of late to include Texas Lounge and Bustin' Loose, and they opened at East Fork for Jason Boland and the Stragglers at the end of March. This weekend, they will be playing at Buffalo Joe's in Paris on Saturday, July 26.

Not bad for a band whose lead vocalist performed for the first time just last year at the annual Future Farmers of America convention after being challenged by ag teacher, Dan Froneberger, to learn Lee Roy Van Dike's "Auctioneer."

"I've never had anything come to me so easily," said JJ, the son of Jimmy and Becky Jones. "It just seems like what I was meant to do. They're all (band members) really good off the top of their heads; not just talent, but raw talent. We all work really well together as a group."

"We don't have the best equipment, the best guitars. It all takes some work, and we have some minor technical difficulties," Rocker admitted. "But we get to playing and the energy kicks in and we play a little louder, a little harder, then we sound a little better and we just relax and have fun."

"From here, it can only get better," added JJ.

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