Cumberland River Band's songs to be featured on TV drama 'Justified'

Cumberland River Band, from left: bassist Joey Jones, 36; guitarist Andy Buckner; 18, mandolin player Dustin Middleton, 23; guitar and dobro player Jamie Stewart, 26; and banjoist Jamie Dean, 32.
Cumberland River Band, from left: bassist Joey Jones, 36; guitarist Andy Buckner; 18, mandolin player Dustin Middleton, 23; guitar and dobro player Jamie Stewart, 26; and banjoist Jamie Dean, 32.

CUMBERLAND GAP, Tenn. — The five members of Cumberland River Band are trying not to feel too giddy about the possibility of fame.

Their band's first gig was at the 2009 Labor Day block party in Evarts in Harlan County.

They knew the band had chemistry and chops. Founders Joey Jones and Jamie Dean were glad to be writing and playing their own music instead of playing in other people's bands.

Then last July, local officials asked them to write a song as a gift to the producers, writers and staff of the television series Justified, who were being honored at a dinner at the Harlan civic center. The series is set in Harlan County.

Their song about a man "with a star upon his chest" received a standing ovation. As a result, four Cumberland River Band songs will be featured in two episodes of the drama, which returns for its second season Wednesday on FX.

"It's surreal," said Jones, 36, a third-shift deep miner and the band's bassist.

"I just want my living to come from where I can be around the music that I love," he said as his band jammed at its recording studio. "At one time that seemed so far out of reach, and now we've just got to reach out and grab it."

Members of Cumberland River Band are four cousins from Evarts and a new guitarist, Andy Buckner, 18, of Asheville, N.C., who was recruited through Facebook. (Buckner is a cousin of Grammy nominee Josh Goforth and plans to go to East Tennessee State University in the fall after he graduates from high school.) The cousins grew up playing in family jam sessions on Jones Creek.

"Growing up, it was awesome," Dean said. "Because Friday nights you knew they were going to be playing music. I would fall asleep on the couch at 12 or 1 at night."

Dean's and Jones' dads were church preachers and members of the band Clover Ridge. The cousins cut their teeth on mandolins, banjos and whatever instrument was lacking in the band at the time.

Music became a part of life. Dean, 32, a diesel mechanic on a strip mine, writes song lyrics on the back of a list of bulldozer parts he needs or in a notebook he keeps in his shirt pocket. Dean just gave his 5-year-old daughter her first guitar. His 11-year-old has an electric guitar and a new Martin, and is dabbling in songwriting.

On weekends, the band spends time cutting its second album at The Curve recording studio in Cumberland Gap, Tenn. Its debut album, The Rock Island Express, was released in September.

Studio owner and producer Steve Gulley, who was a staff musician at Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, calls the band's sound bluegrass with a modern edge, a good fit for Justified.

Graham Yost, executive producer of Justified — a critically acclaimed drama about Eastern Kentucky U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a character created by writer Elmore Leonard — said that when the band played in Harlan, he and the writers looked at one another and said, "These guys are good."

"One of the things that we took away from our time down there in Harlan that we didn't really hit on in the first season was the importance of music" in Eastern Kentucky culture, Yost said.

He said the show's writers wanted to depict the kinds of scenes Cumberland River Band members saw daily growing up.

The band's music will appear in the fourth and ninth episodes this season; air dates aren't set yet, Yost said. The first is a small scene of a family picnic; the second takes place at a large party, with a band onstage in a bar in a fictional town.

No one in the band has seen more than a couple episodes of Justified. Jones watched some clips on YouTube after he was asked to write the song.

"We don't write for the show," he said. "We just write songs from the heart and they use them."

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