paying-the-rent.R549 is a country band that re-invented itself nearly three years ago by going back to its roots—those being Lower Broadway in Nashville, the alternative to the commercialized Music Row.

Robert’s Western World is where the band members got their start in the mid-1990s. These were a bunch of guys who enjoyed revitalizing Traditional Country tunes, every Wednesday through Saturday, just for tips. They called themselves BR5-49 (with the dash) after Junior Samples’ ever-flubbed phone number from the Hee Haw Classic Country television show.

The band’s rise to popularity led to a recording contract with Arista Records. BR5-49 quickly gained enthusiastic fans and became the darling of the national press. They appeared on all the major TV talk and music programs, toured with superstars from both rock and country, and received two Grammy nominations. Four projects were released on Arista before This is BR549 came out on Lucky Dog in 2001.

This marked a major transition period. Bassist Jay McDowell and co-founder/co-lead vocalist Gary Bennett left the group after that release. Vocalist/guitarist Chuck Mead along with instrumentalist Don Herron and drummer Shaw Wilson had to fall back and regroup. This is when they returned to Lower Broadway and began playing weekly shows with the Hillbilly All-Stars, a loose-knit gathering of hot talents. Once again they played for tips and found their love of playing music rekindled. Before long they began to take particular note of bassist Geoff Firebaugh and vocalist/guitarist Chris Scruggs, the grandson of both the legendary Earl Scruggs and Louisiana Hayride performer Tex Dickerson. When Mead, Herron and Wilson decided to continue BR549, they invited Scruggs and Firebaugh to join the group.

The new BR549 began to tour immediately. They were already playing rough versions of eight of the 12 songs which were to become the new CD, Tangled in the Pines. Touring, according to Mead, is what allows the band to “pay the rent” and they continue to play 200 gigs a year on the road. The band tours for a few months and returns home to record a couple of songs in the studio, using their own money.

Coming off the road and recording “while the cigarette smoke [is] still in our shirts” brings an unprecedented live feel to the material.

Visit to hear BR549’s song, “That’s What I Get.”


Bill Groll calls Austin, Texas, home. Visit to learn more about his taste in music.

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