About the Dismembered Tennesseans
It was back in 1945 that a group of McCallie students got together and began singing and playing a brand of Bluegrass music that has gone on now for more than 60 years. The name “Dismembered Tennesseans” seemed good enough a name for a bunch of teenagers who had no long range plans, and they sang their way through school.
But somehow the music never stopped, and the band stayed together for the next 60 years, singing and laughing their way across the country – from Florida to Washington to Ohio and Colorado and points between. They played for every local civic group in existence, every charity, and most of the conventions in town looking for cheap entertainment. They have also played at the Annual Chattanooga Riverbend Festival and at Kennedy Center.
The group has appeared on stage with many of the top bluegrass music stars and has performed in concert with the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Boys Choir, and more recently the Chattanooga Ballet. They have appeared on a segment of ABC-TV’s Peter Jennings Nightly News and were featured on the NBC Sunday Today Show. Their audiences have been composed of such celebrities as Chuck Yeager, Sam Nunn, Gerald Ford, Jack Kemp, and three Tennessee governors. Easily one of the most popular bands in their hometown of Chattanooga, they have made their mark singing bluegrass music for people who don’t particularly like country music.
Interview with Fiddler and Spokesperson Fletcher Bright
May 19, 2015
How did you get involved with the Dickinson Bluegrass on the Grass festival?
It all started because we knew Davis Tracy who was studying at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He then moved to Carlisle to work at Dickinson and asked us to play at his new festival. We never dreamed that we would become regulars. Every year we fly into the airport in Carlisle. We stay at the Days Inn in our favorite room. We come up early on Friday so we can go to Davis’ farm where his wife, Marty, puts on a big spread for the musicians and close friends.
What keeps the Dismembered Tennesseans returning every year?
Well, first we have to be invited. Every year Davis asks, “Can I count on you next year?” and we say, “Yes.” We’ve also had the same band playing at the festival for eighteen years straight. In that time we’ve only added one new member, Brian Blaylock. What makes this festival special is that Davis is not afraid to have a variety of musicians. While he’s had some pretty prominent players, he manages to seek out some interesting bands that are not as well-known and they have a good style and great musicianship. I always enjoy it. One of the hallmarks of the festival is the interesting collection of bands it provides.
The former president of the college, Bill Durden, used to have a radio show and he interviewed me which was a lot of fun. One year President Durden gave me a plaque on stage for playing at the festival and I responded that I was hoping for a color TV instead.
What’s it like playing at the festival?
It’s kinda like old home week. We’ve gotten to know a lot of the people in the audience. They will come to our record table and visit. After eighteen years we’ve created a following and that’s been real nice. We sell more CDs at this festival than at any other that we go to. We always bring an extra suitcase full of CDs.
Generally speaking, I think bluegrass has a very loyal base. I’m in that camp, I love bluegrass. Do you know that song “I was country when country wasn’t cool”? I can remember the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, his popularity would come and go. At times he was so hard up he’d have to do a pickup band when he got to town. But he kept doing his music and remained pure to it and I think a lot of the fans are the same way. They just love that bluegrass sound. It’s a bit addictive and it has a drive that is hard to match. People experiment on the edges of the music but it hasn’t really changed that much. We can perform tunes that came out in the ‘50s and they’re still good. Also, bluegrass used to be very regional but that’s no longer the case. We’ve played in California and in Oregon where it is very popular. It now has a national audience.
By the time we perform this year I’ll be 84 years old. I’m gonna keep coming as long as I can and I don’t see any immediate problems with continuing to come so long as my fingers work and as long as I hear. I hope the festival continues for many more years.