A band can be a lot of work. If it’s not tended properly, the whole thing can fall apart. Nobody in Knoxville knows this better than Grandpa’s Stash. The local stalwarts have had plenty of setbacks, but after bouncing back from a year-long hiatus they’re as strong as they’ve ever been, headlining shows around town, aspiring toward a new recording, and adding fans to an already devoted following.
The group started about five years ago when singer/guitarist Russell Bender started jamming with bassist Niles Haury and guitarist David Clayborne. In a small room at Haury’s old house in Fort Sanders, the three spent hours together, and eventually added trombonist John Colquitt, then drummer Brendon Winett, and finally tenor sax player Kyle Reynolds.
With the first inception of Grandpa’s Stash underway, the band began crafting its signature sound. It’s a blend of jammy rock ’n’ roll, combining the best of jam bands and bar bands with old-fashioned horn blasts, sweet, searing electric guitar, and a tight, funkified rhythm section.
The group played a few shows at a now-defunct coffee house on 11th Street and sat in on acoustic nights at Preservation Pub, eventually getting a proper show at the Market Square bar. The band’s energetic live shows garnered a lot of attention just by word of mouth. But as they plugged away, a twist of fate landed them one of the biggest gigs of their young career.
“I found a phone at P-Pub and called all the numbers in it trying to find the owner,” Haury says. “It turned out to be [noted Knoxville guitarist and bandleader] Mitch Rutman’s.” After a few phone exchanges, Rutman gave the band a chance to open for him.
From there Grandpa’s Stash took off, adding to their fans and landing bigger and bigger shows. Among their biggest was a slot opening for Kentucky hip-hoppers Nappy Roots at the Rock ’N Rhymes Music Fest in Nashville in April 2008. But even though business seemed to be booming for Grandpa’s Stash, the band was falling apart.
“Our name was growing at the time we were breaking up,” Haury says. Clayborne was dealing with personal issues and slowly removed himself from the band. Then Bender and Winett had a falling out, which led to Winett leaving the band. That was the last straw for Grandpa’s Stash v. 1.0.
“It was a five-year marriage based on a one-night stand,” Haury says. “Communication is difficult when you’re married to this many people.”
So the remaining members set off rebuilding the band. Haury and Bender started playing open jams at Sassy Ann’s, where they collaborated with drummer Nathan Gilleran. (“Nathan’s a hell of a drummer,” Bender says.) Reynolds added keys to the Stash’s evolving sound, but the band was still missing the crucial lead guitar. They tried to recruit lead guitarist Scott Fall from the late Knoxville band Llama Train, but that fell through. They finally settled on Bryce Russell, a young guitar player with little experience. Though he’d been playing for five years, Russell had never been in a serious band. He’d participated in “some projects here and there,” and performed out on occasion. He had one particular advantage, though: At the time Grandpa’s Stash asked him to play he was the vintage specialist at Guitar Center in Cedar Bluff. The other guys in the band joke that, thanks to that job, Russell is the only one in the band with nice equipment.
It didn’t take long for the band to start recovering from its year apart. Their first show since regrouping was the Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash at the Cider House in August, which they headlined. They were then the first act to appear on Knoxivi.com, a locally-based website that streams live concerts. The played the Sound Off competition at the Square Room in January, where they debuted a remarkable cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” that has become part of their regular set. They didn’t make the finals, but took solace in the fact that the judges offered very little criticism. Just last week they headlined a benefit show for Haiti, which also marked their first appearance at Barley’s Taproom.
Currently, Grandpa’s Stash is getting ready for a string of shows, both local and out-of-town, in the spring. At a recent weekly practice at the South Knoxville house where Bender, Haury, and Reynolds live, the band sounds like they’ve never missed a beat.
“We snap together like Voltron,” Bender says.
After their busy spring schedule they plan to start scaling back their Knoxville shows so they don’t oversaturate the musical market. The band members show considerable savvy about the local music scene, and seem determined to make up for lost time.
“If I’ve got a 1 percent chance, I’m going to give it a 110 percent effort,” Haury says.