To begin, Banjoist & Songster Leroy Troy is a true good ol’ boy from Goodlettsville Tennessee, which is now a northern suburb of metro Nashville. But long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, it was out-in-the-country home to a great number of Grand Ole Opry performers. Back then you couldn’t help but be a neighbor to Stringbean, Bashful Brother Oswald, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, the Carlisles and many others of the first generation of country music. Leroy isn’t quite that old, but he is definitely SOAKED in that old time country entertainment spirit. He knew a number of these folks as neighbors when he was a boy.
‘Troy has been playing the old time banjo since he was a very young lad. His dad used to take him to musical “gatherings” at a local grocery store in Goodlettsville. 13 year old Leroy was taken by the fiddling, but his dad bought him a banjo. One of the participants in this weekly jam was none other than Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music. Acuff took a shine to young Leroy and filled his head full of stories about Uncle Dave Macon – the Dixie Dewdrop, the first true “star” of the WSM Grand Ole Opry. Young Leroy began playing the banjo in Grandpa Jones’ style, and then “graduated” to the more complex mix of entertainment skills that Uncle Dave was known for. Along the way he was taught the 19th century skills of a banjo man. These are the circus and vaudeville routines with clever, comical lyrics, and “monkeyshines” like twirling the instrument in time to the music. Leroy was fortunate to have been taught “how to cut a shine” by old Cordell Kemp of Defeated Tennessee. Cordell learned directly from Uncle Dave Macon. Uncle Dave himself learned from circus and vaudeville performers before 1900.
Just think for a minute how “dull” high school must have seemed when you’re palling around with old time entertainers like Roy Acuff and Cordell Kemp thinking about Uncle Dave Macon…
Leroy started his career in show business appearing on the old Carl Tipton Family TV series on Channel 5 in Nashville, and touring with his mentors, the Bailes Brothers (1940s stars of the Opry). Leroy hit the big time with his banjo and old songs at the Knoxville World Fair in the early 1980s (or maybe it was the late 1890s). In any case, while still a high school student, Leroy got addicted to the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint, and brought a relentless focus to the OLD forms of banjoistic entertaining. He even became a War Between the States re-enactor, with the rank of “Musician”. He’s sung and played his fiddle and banjo at countless refightings of the old battles from what Minnie Pearl called “The Recent Unpleasantness of 1861”.
By the mid-1980s young Leroy became a faculty member at the Tennessee Banjo Institute, and started getting regular TV exposure on TNN’s “Nashville Now” and the late, lamented “Hee Haw” where he appeared for two years as “Billy Bob“. Toward the end of the 1980s he got into theater, performing in the late Dr. Charles Wolfe’s production of “Tennessee Strings”. He debuted at the Mother Church of Country Music, the Grand Ole Opry, in 1988, and he’s returned there many times. ‘Troy also appeared in the documentary “Echoes of America” in 1989.
1995 saw Leroy beginning to win awards, with “Best New Artist” from the Traditional Music Association. In 1996 – Old Time Banjo National Champion. That year he also appeared in the TBS documentary “The Roots of Country”, undoubtedly among the “rootsiest” artists that TBS ever featured!
1999 brought major honor as the1999 “Heritage Award” winner at Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro Tennessee, given to an individual dedicated to the preservation of Old Time Country Music. In 2000, Leroy appeared in Mac Wiseman’s “Roots to Bluegrass” video series.
Recently Leroy was a regular on the short-lived, infamous “Outsiders Inn” comedy on the CMT network with stars Maureen McGovern (“Marine”, as Leroy called her) , Bobby Brown and Carnie Wilson.
For several years now Leroy has been closely associated with the Marty Stuart show, and he is a regular weekly guest star on Marty’s RFD TV series.
Through these years, Leroy never missed an opportunity to perform at a Nashville venue, a bluegrass festival or folk music concert series. He even busked on a Caribbean cruise ship! In 2007 Leroy did a prolonged stint in a theater in Branson Missouri.
All the while for over 20 years Leroy has been putting out cassettes and CDs of his enthusiastic style of old time banjo pickin’ and singin’. In 2001 Rounder Records released his major label CD “The Old Grey Mare”. Leroy now records with The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band on the Spring Fed label.
The 21st century has seen Leroy’s old time country entertainment grow to a world-wide phenomenon with repeat banjo festival appearances in Ireland and bluegrass festivals in Canada. Here’s some of the Irish press on The Tennessee Slicker:
“Leroy Troy left the whole country speaking of him and asking for more. Never before have an assortment of music lovers been so mutually overwhelmed by such an extraordinary talent. He can capture and hold the attention of any sized audience like no other. Leroy can sing, dance, twirl the banjo and never miss a note! His friendly onstage banter immediately warm the hearts of every person in the room. His sheer love of music shines through with every tune he plays and every song he sings. With his catchy tunes, his superb personality, and onstage antics, Leroy is a performer which no music lover should chance missing!”
A few of ’Troy’s absolute show-stoppers involve mind-boggling banjo handling tricks to the tune of numbers as old as “My Grandfather’s Clock”, “Keep My Skillet Good ‘n’ Greasy”, “Alabama Jubilee“, “New River Train” or the more recent Lynyrd Skynyrd number “The Mississippi Kid” or Tom Paxton‘s “Bottle of Wine“. When not throwing his banjo with wild abandon, Leroy keeps an audience chuckling with comic lyrics such as “My Gal’s a Corker (She’s a New Yorker)” or “The Old Grey Mare”. Leroy is also an enthusiastic singer of the proto-bluegrass songs like “Feast Here Tonite”, and especially the Roy Acuff repertoire including “Bald Knob Arkansas“, “Nero Played His Fiddle While Rome Burned“, or some of the old Pap‘s Jug Band numbers like “Charming Betsy“. For the Jug Band numbers ’Troy straps on what he calls his “washing machine”, an old-time scrub board with plenty of auxiliary noisemakers attached to it.
‘Troy is also a skilled accompanist to his fellow Tennessee Mafia Jug Band partners. He puts on the finger picks and plays fine banjo backup to their “serious” numbers and hymns.
All that’s left to be said can’t even be said. You have to experience it. Watching Leroy perform is like watching snake-handling. You can’t look away – something unexpected is likely to happen! Leroy’s expressive eyes seem to lock onto every individual in the audience. He’s watching his audience as closely as they watch him. Lord knows if he sees someone get up to take a hygiene break or a trip to the snack bar, he’ll call them out on the spot with something like “Where y’all going? We’re gonna raffle off a bucket o’ lard here in a minute!”
Whether he’s performing solo or with The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, do NOT miss a Leroy Troy show. This is true old time entertainment that just doesn’t come through the internet or cable TV! Most likely this stuff would overload and crash those flimsy modern media. This kind of fun is hard to contain! Guaranteed, after a Leroy Troy show, you’re going to give serious consideration to buying a pair of overalls and a flop felt hat.
Dick Bowden – Staff Writer for The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band