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Otter Creek Express is more than a little bit country

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By Becca Owsley

Some members of the band Otter Creek Express have been playing together for more than 50 years.

After different band names and group members they decided on the band name simply because they all live near Otter Creek in Meade County. The named seemed to fit.

“We’ve settled on this and I think it’s permanent,” vocalist Jack Whelan said.

Whelan and lead guitarist Randall Brown have been playing together since 1954. They started out on the stage of the jamboree in Hodgenville. Back then, the jamboree was located on the square, Whelan said.

Other members of the group have changed throughout the years. Along with Whelan and Randall, the band currently includes fiddle player Joe Layman, bass player Jimmy Mote and Ronnie Thomas on the drums.

Thomas built his own electric drum set and Whelan thinks Mote is one of the best bass players around.

Brown plays lead guitar in a Chet Atkins style, Whelan said.

Whelan sings a lot of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and George Jones.
“We have a little bit of comedy from time to time, well, at least we thing it’s comedy,” Whelan said.

As the band members get a bit older the sets tend to get a bit shorter. They used to play for five hours or more. Three hours is about their max these days.

“I’ll be 75 my next birthday so I do well to stand up, I think,” Whelan said.

On May 21st they’ll play in Vine Grove.

“We’ll start at 5 in the evening until 8 or when people decided it’s time to go home,” he said.

They’ve played in Big Spring, the Breckenridge County Fair and a few times in Rough River.

Otter Creek Express also plays for many rest homes.

They played at a radio station in Washington County Indiana, 89.9, and didn’t realize it was broadcast on the Internet. Whelan was surprised when he received phone calls from South America from people who liked old style country music.

Whelan said part of the attraction to old country songs is the songwriters’ ability to tell as story through the music.

“It’s basically rural music and people can relate to it,” Whelan said.
Whelan likes to work the crowd.

"That’s where it’s at,” he said.

Whelan admits as he’s gotten older he’s often thought of stopping music, but it’s not that easy.

“It’s hard to give up,” he said.

Anyone who plays an instrument, especially young people, can contact Whelan for an audition to sit in with the band. Exposure is the best thing a young person can have, he said.

“You don’t really need to be good when you first start out, you just need to settle down and more or less get to where you don’t realize there’s a whole lot of people out there (in the audience),” Whelan said.

For more information about the band or for bookings contact (270) 828-3427. The concert 5 p.m. May 21 at The Vine Grove Optimist Park. It's a free show, but donations are appreciated.

“If they come out I’m sure that they’ll enjoy themselves and if they don’t all they have to do is tell us and we’ll correct it,” Whelan said. “It’s not like were bashful, it’s not our first day.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.