JT Dumbass & The Fucking Idiots
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JT Dumbass & The Fucking Idiots

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"John Titlow Band honored to fire up the crowd at festival"

Every journey has its struggles, stumbles and missteps.
The key, Blount County boy John Titlow has learned, is not to give up. No matter how hopeless it seems, how desperate times get, how much his back is against the wall ... he fights.

He pushes on and finds a way — not around, but through whatever obstacle seems to be dozens of miles high and wide. And that's the attitude that will put the band that carries his name in front of a hometown audience of thousands next weekend at the annual Foothills Fall Festival.

“When we first started this band, we wrote down some goals we wanted to achieve as five-year goals,” Titlow told The Daily Times this week. “We started simple, so No. 1 was playing at Cotton Eyed Joe (the country nightclub in West Knoxville). Well, we got to open for Trailer Choir, and we've headlined it ourselves. And then we set the goal to play at the Foothills Fall Festival.
“We never imagined it would happen this quick. It's almost surreal, especially that we get to open for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Since Alabama played there, this is the biggest artist to come through the festival in my opinion, and for us to be the only local guys opening and playing on Saturday (Oct. 9) is a big, big opportunity.
“The joy of being able to be on that stage — the same stage that, later that night, Skynyrd will be on — I think it's the beginning of a lifelong journey,” he added.
It's a journey that's been under way for going on six years, since the first time Titlow and his then-girlfriend/now-wife, Kendra, went out to the Prince Deli in West Knoxville and Titlow decided to give karaoke a try. He'd sang in church growing up and had been encouraged to give doing it in public a try, but it was Kendra that gave him the push he needed.
Once he tried it, he couldn't do it often enough. Through encouragement from Prince owners Kevin and Donna Prenger, as well as overwhelming support from friends and family, Titlow got up the nerve to enter a few local karaoke contests. He won one, and then another, and then another — including one sponsored by WIVK-FM that landed him a slot on the Foothills Fall Festival stage in downtown Maryville.
That was in 2008, and Titlow got to sing a few songs before country star Billy Currington took the stage. The crowd numbered in the thousands, and the 2002 graduate of Greenback High was hooked. The following February, he met the John Titlow Band's original guitar player, and the band achieved lift-off.

From the beginning, the brothers Long — 2007 Alcoa High graduate Zane on lead guitar and AHS senior Zach on bass — have been on board. At first, playing a standing Friday gig at the Blount County post of the VFW, the band played strictly acoustic instruments; after adding electric guitars and honing their chops at the VFW, they started playing area clubs, writing their own music as well. One of the first songs Titlow wrote was for his father, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. military, called “Freedom Don't Come Free.”

In addition to the tried-and-true themes that appeal to the heart of any country music fan, there's also a handful of local shout-outs to make the hometown crowd proud — “Girl from Morganton Road” is a wistful, soulful song about first love coming of age. Combined with a work ethic that borders on the maniacal, the John Titlow Band has earned quite the local reputation as a solid country outfit with homespun appeal. Whether it's a birthday party or a charity gig, Titlow and his bandmates just want to play.

That led them to involvement with a national charity that took them out West. At one of the band's Prince Deli shows, a Nashville resident was in the crowd and talked to Titlow afterward about a disease afflicting one of his daughters called Rett Syndrome, a developmental disorder mostly targeting girls that's often misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism.

He asked the band to do a benefit show in Nashville; the guys agreed, and Titlow befriended his new fan as well. He wound up writing a song for the man's daughter, and the group's philanthropic work earned a slot at the International Rett Syndrome Foundation's annual Family Conference, which took place in May in Colorado. It was the chance of a lifetime, he said.

“We played Saturday night as the main entertainment, and we got to get together with Kevin Black, (country star) Clint Black's brother, and pick guitars at the resort,” Titlow said. “He didn't bring a band, so my band played for him, and when we played, we brought Kevin back during our performance.”

While there, he co-wrote a song for the foundation called “Angel,” inspired by and dedicated to Libby Shirley, the little girl whose father recruited the John Titlow Band for the cause. The foundation plans to use it as its theme song, Titlow said.
That was the high point of the trip. The low point was that the band almost broke up. Disagreements splintered the group, and when the members prepared to return to Blount County, they didn't know how they could keep going.

“There was about 30 minutes, literally, that I thought about putting things on hold for a bit, because all of the equipment was funded by a former member's dad,” Titlow said. “But a good family friend of mine stepped in and volunteered to donate the money to me as a gift and got me back on track. The equipment was the big issue — trying to rebuild from scratch, and we ended up doing it in a week. As soon as we got back from Colorado on that Monday, we had a show on Saturday, and we were able to do it.”

Now, Titlow said, the band is stronger than ever thanks to new drummer Dave Fisher and new guitarist Bryce Russell. The guys were in the studio in July and recorded a new album that was finished last week — titled “Gimme Back My Dirt road,” it's based on a song Titlow and Zane Long wrote.

“I'm proud to say that every song on our album is true, down to each lyric,” he said. “I base my songwriting on the old traditional story-songs of real life. My biggest influence, in terms of being a storyteller, is Johnny Cash.”

Thanks to connections made through the Rett Syndrome Foundation (in Colorado, the band made quite a few international fans, he said) and through plain old hard work and perseverance, the John Titlow Band will have its own enthusiastic fan base in the Foothills Fall Festival audience on Saturday. It's a testament, he said, to the power a dream can give a group of guys, and to the dedication his friends, family members and fellow pickers have to seeing that dream through.

“It definitely makes it more special,” he said. “To go to the website and look at the lineup for Saturday and see my name opening the show, I just can't describe how it feels. Being in Maryville — our hometown, where we're from — it's the biggest opportunity in the world for us.

“The family we have, the friends we've gained, being born and raised here — those are the things you can't ever replace. This is where we got our start. When we go out West or go to Nashville or all of these different places to play, you still have that longing for home.

“It's just really cool that we get to do what we're about to do in our hometown,” he added. - The Daily Times


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