When a group of employees decided to get together for a musical jam in the break room of the Key City Furniture plant in Wilkes County, the Key City Boys band was born. Original members of the band-Cob Chatham, Doug Davis, Ray Winebarger, Steve McKinney, and Louis Carpenter-as well as newer members Ernest Johnson, Kesley Pennell, and Cody McGuire, have performed bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music in and around Wilkes County for several years.
Mandolin player Doug Davis has been performing gospel music locally for years, carrying on a family tradition begun by his father, aunts, and uncles. He toured and performed with Old Grove Quartet for twenty-nine years. “We sang gospel and played bluegrass all over the country around here,” he says. When Doug, Cob, and Ray started jamming together at work a few years ago, “people at work asked us if we would make a CD,” Doug recalls. “And a lot of churches wanted us to come and play.” Soon, the group was playing together regularly with Steve and Louis.
Cob Chatham grew up in Wilkes County playing mandolin, banjo, and harmonica. “Cob has played about all his life,” Doug says. Cob suffered a stroke a few years ago, and he no longer plays banjo or mandolin, but he continues to play harmonica and sing with the group. Ray Winebarger plays lead guitar and does lead vocals for the Key City Boys. Ray has been playing music all his life, and he is a fan of old country music. Louis Carpenter is the band’s bass player, and he plays steel guitar. Louis was a member of the Old Grove Quartet with Doug. Steve McKinney plays guitar and sings with the group. Steve also plays piano and oversees a praise band at his church.
When Ernest Johnson joined the group, he brought his fiddling tradition to the band. Ernest grew up in Wilkes County and carries on a family musical tradition. Fiddling since he was twelve years old, Ernest is adept at old-time, bluegrass, country, and western swing fiddle styles. Banjo players Cody McGuire, of Watauga County, and Kesley Pennell, of Troutman, North Carolina, switch back and forth depending on availability.
The Key City Boys have performed at the Cabin Stage at MerleFest, and at festivals in Sparta and Concord, and they are frequent performers at Raccoon Holler Campground. They have made three recordings. In addition to performing, the members love playing together. “We play most every day at work during breaks,” their website announces. “It is very enjoyable, good friends, good times, and great music!”
The Key City Boys are available for performances at churches, festivals, and other events.