The Jason Boone Band is a bluegrass group with members from throughout central and southern Mississippi, as well as one from southeastern Louisiana. It includes Jason Boone (tenor and guitar), Don Robinson (baritone and banjo), Johnny Rawls (upright bass), Lee Ely (mandolin, sings harmony), and Jeffrey Boone (fiddle, sings harmony).
They count themselves lucky that they all live within an hour and a half drive of one another—many bluegrass groups must travel further to assemble. Jason Boone lives in Brandon and is the owner of a pest control company. Robinson lives in Hattiesburg, where he is a financial representative in the insurance investment business. Johnny Rawls lives outside of Mendenhall and has been a state trooper for 30 years. Lee Ely of Silvarena is an industrial electrician. And the most recent member to join the band, Jeffrey Boone (no relation to Jason) lives in Angie, Louisiana, and is self-employed—among other things, he rents heavy equipment. Most of the members of the band are old friends, but Jeff heard about them, hunted them down, and convinced them they needed a fiddler, for which they are grateful today.
Most of the band members heard some kind of traditional music at family gatherings when they were kids, and none of them studied their instruments that they play in the band formally. Jason heard his grandfather and uncles playing, and he performed on mandolin in an ensemble led by his uncle, J. C. Renfro. Johnny Rawls’ older siblings and mother all played guitar. Lee and his brother were in the junior high band in Clarksdale. He started guitar at age 12, not knowing that his father’s family was full of traditional musicians: “It runs in the blood, but I didn’t know it.” He shifted to mandolin because a group he played with needed one. Don’s grandfather was a Baptist preacher, so he first played gospel piano by ear. He and his mother loved to listen to the Grand Ole Opry and would pretend to be Opry stars Kitty Wells and Little Jimmy Dickens. He took up the bluegrass banjo later when he was stunned by the virtuosity of banjo master Earl Scruggs. And Jeff took up the violin simply because his father had one around the house.
These days, the band has about 30 gigs a year throughout the southeastern U.S. Since they live in different towns and it’s hard to find time to get together, most of their practice time is in a few hours before each show. That’s typical for most bluegrass groups, which, like this one, are usually semi-professional.
Why do they play bluegrass? They agree that it’s fun, a “musician’s music,” and extremely challenging. Don says that “the most talented musicians in the world are bluegrass musicians. There’s no button to mash, there’s no switch to turn, it’s just you and that pick.” Jason adds that “there’s not a lot of genres that combine gospel music with secular music, so it gives you an opportunity to play both. But at the same time, the secular music for the most part does not offend God either. And then you’ve got instrumentals you can play; it gives you some variety.”