Dana Cole/San Pedro Valley News-Sun
Forget the sparklers and fireworks. Benson's Fourth of July is going to light up hotter than ever without the fiery displays.
In lieu of fireworks, the city has hired an up-and- coming hit band, the Rowdy Johnson Band, a group that plays for veterans' groups, bars, honky-tonks, bikers, rodeos and anyplace looking for a traditional country group with a splash of rock.
The band will be the featured entertainment from 7 until 10 p.m. at Lions Park, lighting up the night on July 4th with its high powered performance.
From the moment they take the stage, the Rowdy Johnson Band is all about the crowd. Known for delivering high-energy live shows, the band belts out songs composed by lead singer and songwriter Rowdy Johnson, while feeding off the fans and playing to the audience.
Rowdy's songs are reminiscent of country music's classic outlaws. A prolific songwriter, he takes life's experiences, both good and bad, and weaves lyrics into soulful creations that replicate such country music icons as Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Wil-liams Jr., and Charlie Daniels, preferring that traditional style over the contemporary superstars that dominate today's airwaves.
"My music represents the voice of the people when it comes to traditional country fans with true country roots," says Rowdy, who comes from Florida, but calls Arizona home. "I've actually had people tell me that I'm 'too country;' that outlaw-style music is a thing of the past. I don't believe that for one minute. When I write a song, I want you to hear my story. I want that song to move you. And that's what my songs do."
Whether it's "Haunted Guitar" or "Elly May's Biscuits," the Rowdy Johnson Band prides itself in delivering outlaw-style, rollicking country songs with that deep-down, home-grown appeal. The band's performances merge country music with southern rock, reaching audiences that include veterans, bikers, rockers, country music fanatics and everything in between.
Locally, the band has found a home in Tombstone, an ideal venue for a group that identifies itself with an outlaw image. The five-piece band has become an entertainment favorite in the "Town Too Tough to Die," where they play at the Four Deuces Saloon, the Tombstone Dragoon Saloon and Helldorado Town, packing the house wherever they perform.
While Rowdy and his group enjoy the intimate settings of Tombstone, their popularity is growing, with bookings popping up in different areas and a wide range of venues. Armed Forces Entertainment has its eye on the group, with a possible tour in Okinawa, Japan, where they will be playing for a number of military installations as part of Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or MWR. Rowdy served in the navy and, as a veteran, is deeply committed to the men and women of the armed forces.
"My very first show was at the Maverick in Tucson, where I performed for the Wounded Warrior Project," Rowdy said. "I got up on the stage and said, 'this is for all of you,' and I played 'This Country of Mine.' At the end of the song, they stood up and cried. As a songwriter, that was a very emotional moment for me."
When they're not in Tombstone, the band plays at the Gallopin' Goose in Coolidge, has made appearances at the Sorry Gulch in Sierra Vista and has been invited to perform at an upcoming Waylon Jen-nings/West family reunion in Texas. As part of the Texas tour, the group will be performing at the Texas Caf/ on July 22 in Lubbock.
Along with Rowdy, the band members are Ken Whitcomb on bass guitar, Mike Winkler on drums, Bob "Whitey" Hammett on steel guitar, Vance "Dr. V" Cast on lead guitar and guest member Steve "Mojo Man" Gobby on the harp (harmonica).
After putting together a three-song demo CD called Triple Shot - one of Rowdy's songs - "Elly May's Biscuits" - shot to the top of the Independence Music Charts in three days and remained in that No. 1 spot. "That was in October, and as far as I know, it's still number one," said Rowdy. The other two songs, "Haunted Guitar" and "This Country of Mine," are popular as well.
On July 15, 16, and 17, the band will be recording a CD called "Outlaws Today," a 13-song production that features the three songs from Triple Shot, along with nine other Rowdy originals. As a tribute to Waylon Jennings, the cover song will be "Lonesome, Ornery and Mean," one of the country star's classic hits.