The Putnam County Pickers took the stage at Charleston's earliest Sternwheel Regatta Festivals. They recorded a television commercial for a local car dealer and they traveled the fairs and festival circuit throughout the eastern United States. They did two USO tours that took them to Turkey, Greenland, Ethiopia, Greece and Germany and they recorded two albums - and they really were albums back then.
Sowell laughs to think how they even managed to book gigs at the time.
"None of us had a phone, and that was way before cell phones," he said. "What would happen was people would search around and call the Culloden post office where we got our mail and they would leave us messages. And we would come in to get our mail and the postmaster would say, 'You need to call this person.'"
"If we would have been allowed to give him 10 percent, we would have."
The Pickers' last concert was in 1981 at the state Culture Center. And then life took the musicians in different directions. Steve Hill, Ron Sowell and Ammed Solomon still collaborate as part of the Mountain Stage house band. Sandy Sowell, formerly married to Ron Sowell, runs a company that offers audience participation games and shows. John Kessler lives in Seattle. Others who played part of the time with the band - Bob Webb, Michael Ivey, Greg Harman and David Ziems - have moved on to other projects. Rusty Wells died of cancer.
That last one hit the old friends hard. They've discussed over the years organizing a reunion concert.
Finally, they realized if they were going to do it, they'd better do it now.
Sowell said an invitation from St. Timothy's In-The-Valley Episcopal Church in Teays Valley to perform at its anniversary celebration provided the kick in the pants they needed. The band in the old days had rehearsed in the church. Sowell and crew then approached Live on the Levee organizers to see if they might get an invitation there, and they had two reunion gigs in a weekend.
Hill, Ron Sowell, Sandy Sowell, Solomon and Kessler will perform, with an earlier drummer, Greg Carroll, joining in for a few songs.
It's been hard work reviving those old songs, long tucked away to the musical scrapbooks.
"All I can say is thank God for recordings," Sowell said. "We did two albums and fortunately, a couple songs that we never recorded were big-time Pickers hits and we had people who had done recordings of those. We've been rehearsing our vocals and Steve and I have been able to get together to do guitar work for a couple of months."
This week, the entire crew gathered to put it all together.
"It's been a hoot playing these songs and reliving the stories," Sowell said. "But the thing that is really cool about it is our fans have been so excited."
There was one Pickers song called "Jed Zeppelin and his Country Rockin' Acid Bluegrass Band" for which no one could recall words or chords. Someone unearthed an old VHS recording of it that Sandy Sowell took home and converted to DVD.
"It's a great, great song," Sandy said.
She also has unearthed dozens of photos and has been posting them on a specially created Facebook page. And she laughs to recall how the group came together.
"We really didn't think we were a band," she recalled. "But people just kept knocking on our door."