Jerry Roberson retired from his job as owner of Jerry Roberson Piano…but he didn’t retire from his love of music and of performing.
That’s how one of the most popular bands in the Boro got its start.
Roberson says that he had gone a number of years without playing any music because he was so busy with work. But when he retired, he said he just wanted to play in a band.
“It’s just something I wanted to do,” he said, “So I handpicked some of the best musicians around that I could find in this area and put it together four years ago; June 12 was four years ago.”
The original members were Roberson, Michael “Redbone” Walker, Pete Bragg, Rachel Elkins and Ashley Whittemore, along with drummer, Gabriel Petkewich.
The band has seen some changes since its inception, including Petkewich’s graduation from Georgia Southern, which brought in Kendahl Mims. Michael King joined up for a time, while Bragg was out. But Bragg is back, and the band has recently added some horns: Dr. Tim Kinzinger, who teaches trumpet at GSU, Kirkland Sanders, who plays trombone with the Savannah Bananas, and Richard Johnson, who is a band director at Southeast Bulloch Middle School.
“We went with six people for a while and were doing good,” Roberson said. “But we realized that we could probably add some horns and make a little bit more money and get bigger gigs in the area; weddings and corporate things and stuff. And so that’s just been a couple of months not that we’ve had the horns, and it’s going well.”
As for the name, well, if you ask Roberson about it, you get a grin. Then you get a story.
Roberson says there was an old television show, “The Greatest American Hero.”
“My kids used to watch that show years ago, and I always liked the song that came with that show. It was called, ‘Believe It or Not.’ Redbone saw our songs, saw the song list that I had presented to everybody that these are songs I wanted to learn, and he saw that song on there, and he said, ‘I’ve never heard of that song. Who is that by? The Ripleys?’” Roberson recalled, saying they were referring to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
“So it just stuck. It seemed to be a good name, and we joked around and used that name, telling people at gigs occasionally, and I still do, that we used to be a circus act, high flying, and we had a big lawsuit and couldn’t pay the lawyer. So we started a band to pay the lawyers, and we were getting too old to do the circus act anyway. It’s a silly story, but it’s funny. We’re surprised how many people actually believed it,” Roberson said.
Choosing the music is something that Roberson does mostly. He’s been in bands since he was 14, when he was influenced by The Beatles coming to America.
“It’s always a problem choosing songs, because everybody has their own tastes and what they prefer. I decided when I started this band that I was going to choose the material,” he said. “If it was going to be my swan song and my last band I played in at my age, I was going to at least play the songs that I’ve always wanted to play.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take into consideration the suggestions of his bandmates. They also often are approached by audience members, who want to hear particular songs.
“Everybody has suggestions what we should play, but what we’re playing seems to be working real well, so we’re going to stick with the plan, and that’s me choosing what we do,” he said.
Roberson agrees that their set list is fairly diverse.
“We are, really. We can play anything. Back when the Moose Lodge wanted us to play there a couple of times, we actually learned a bunch of country songs, and we’ve kept some of those because they sounded so good. But we don’t play a lot of country. If we do, it’s older country. What we generally play is what we call retro pop, and I tell everybody if they want to know, it’s anything from Michael Jackson to Toto to Fleetwood Mac,” Roberson said.
Adding Whittemore and Elkins was a smart move, Roberson says. He’d seen them perform in “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” at the Averitt Center for the Arts, and was truly impressed.
“I just went and approached them and asked them if they were interested in singing in the band,” he said. “I had the idea for two female vocalists come from a group that’s popular out of Mariette called Foxes and Fossils. And I said, well, there you go. So I can get these young girls to sing out for us, and me and my older friends can back them up.”
He said having the young ladies front the band and their show brings in the younger crowd, and it works beautifully for the band overall because everyone enjoys watching and listening to them — while he and the rest of the band just “stand back there and do our thing.”
Roberson says the band plays at least once a weekend, on average, sometimes twice. They play often at Bites in the Boro, Nonna Picci and Dolan’s Bar B Que. They mostly play in Statesboro, but they’ve been known to travel outside of the area. This doesn’t happen very often, since many of the band members have full-time jobs. They also play private events and weddings.
“There are still people discovering us and learning about The Ripleys. Now we don’t have to hunt the gigs; they come to us. But we haven’t been able to break into Savannah, because there’s just so many good musicians and bands down there, and so many places to play. So we just try to stay close to home. It’s easier for us,” Roberson said.
A typical show, Roberson says, is anything but typical.
“We joke around a lot. We try to entertain. We try to play what people want to hear, but we’ve developed a pretty big following of the people who like what we do. So we’ve quit searching for ‘we ought to play more of this for these young people or we ought to play more of this country for these people.’ We’ve just got to do what we do,” he said.
Shows last for about three hours, and the band rarely takes breaks.
“We love playing, so we’re not one of those bands that take a lot of breaks. We might take one break during the night and try to keep the crowd going the whole time and we keep them entertained by joking around with each other or the music,” he added.
There’s no doubt that playing in a band like The Ripleys is a lot of work, but Roberson says that when you love it, it’s all worth it.
“There’s a thrill out of doing it that’s just different,” he said, adding that playing for a small group isn’t his thing. “But you get me in front of 75 or 100 people, and I’m just a ham, and everybody else (in the band) is. They really love it, no matter how hard the work. They just love being on stage and hamming it up.”
Catch The Ripleys around the Boro at various venues, and follow them on Facebook for more information.