Seated in the back of the musty Turf Club, the guitarist for The Deere Johns-a man simply known as "Kentucky"-is strumming his acoustic guitar with a cowboy hat perched atop his head. He looks forlorn, shunned to the back of a place where hipsters hang out when they're tired of being hip. Flocked in the tackiness of '70s nostalgia, the Turf Club is where bad wallpaper and Rat Pack-era jingles go to die.
Kentucky says he feels right at home.
Eyeing the line of Bloody Marys making their way down the bar, Kentucky is now seated in front of the bartender, Stephen Rey, who also happens to be the vocalist-guitarist for The Deere Johns. Later, bassist Tony Maucere seats himself and starts sucking on a drink. Only drummer T-Bone is absent this day. Together, they seem less dejected than Kentucky seemed on his own.
Formed a few years ago when Rey and Kentucky wanted a side project outlet from their main gig, The Deere Johns have been plagued by rampant lineup changes. The experience they've gained, however, was well worth the pain, says Kentucky.
"I kinda feel like our heads are all in the same place now and we found two guys that want to be in this band and we all get along," he says.
"It's a relationship," adds Maucere. "It's four girlfriends at one time. It's not just about hanging out, it's about really caring about this music and being passionate about it and sacrificing things so you can do it."
This music that The Deere Johns care about is swigging country and gritty honky-tonk. Like their name, their music summons up photogenic memories of wide-open spaces and grassy summer afternoons with a bottle of Jim Beam in one hand and a fly swatter in the other.
As a band, The Deere Johns have played gigs at the Sports Arena (for a Gulls game), at the Del Mar Fair and at Qualcomm Stadium (at a Padres game: "We were on the Jumbotron!"). They played an opening gig for Hank Williams III. They did a nationwide tour with the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. Yet even with these minor successes, the band concedes that they're not exactly good at the "administration side" of the music business.
"We don't have a website. We don't have an e-mail list. We don't have any of that stuff that normal bands do because we're so busy making this music," says Kentucky. "I care where this band goes, but I just want to play. We don't have any stars in our eyes."
It's been two years since the band's self-titled release and The Deere Johns are hard at work on a follow-up. Rey says he and Kentucky are working fiercely at local studio Singing Serpent (run by Rafter Roberts of Bunky) to finish up some of their most rollicking tracks yet.
"The songwriting level is the best it's ever been," says Kentucky. "We've got some really great ideas, but it takes a while. Songwriting is such a very personal thing. You say, "Hey, here's my masterpiece' and everyone is like, "Uh, that sucks. I think you should change this here and don't ever play that again.' I get shot down like that all the time by these guys! But it works and I love this music that comes out."
For Kentucky, a kid whose first record was AC/DC's Highway to Hell, The Deere Johns are a bit of calm country oasis. He looks more at home with the acoustic guitar in his lap and his bandmates at his side than he would ever look with a schoolboy's uniform on.
He knows it, and it seems to make him happy.The Deere Johns don't even have a website. For more info, go buy a drink from the shaggy looking bartender at The Turf Club.