Music has always been a part of J.R Tackett’s life, and he doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. For Tackett, music is “like taking vitamins. That’s my energy.”
Though he’s played in many bands throughout his career, Tackett currently performs vocals and rhythm guitar for the band Great Country, which he founded in 2013. Great Country plays all around central Ohio, including Martinsburg, a town 15 minutes from Kenyon.
Growing up in Ashland, Ky., Tackett remembers plucking the strings of his grandmother’s guitar that she kept in the closet of her old farmhouse. “I’d sit down on the floor and reach down [under the closet’s curtain] and pluck on the strings,” Tackett said. He’s been playing ever since.
In 1970, Tackett started playing in country bands in and around the Columbus area. He formed Great Country with other players he’d met during his music career: Earl Scoles (lead guitar), Terry Martin (steel guitar), John Sheets (bass and banjo player) and Tom Drake (drummer).
Inspired by classic country and rock-n-roll artists like Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, Great Country plays at fairs, square dances and other community and private events in and around central Ohio. Throughout his career, Tackett has been most influenced by the songs of Merle Haggard. “Some of the songs that [Haggard] did sounded like me,” Tackett said. “He sounds like he’s singing about my old hometown, he’s singing about my old country road where I used to be.”
Born in a family of musicians, Martin has been surrounded by music all his life. He’s been playing the steel guitar since he was 14 years old, encouraged and inspired by his good friend and famous guitarist Leon Rhodes.
“Wherever we play, people enjoy hearing traditional country music because they don’t hear the steel guitar, they don’t hear the banjo anymore with the new country,” Martin said of Great Country. “They enjoy hearing the classic country.”
Born and raised in Martinsburg, Scoles was first inspired by the guitar as a child, watching one of his father’s friends (a guitarist he admired) play music with his father out behind their family’s store. “I just started sitting in when they would play, and I’d watch him, see the chords he was getting and that’s how I learned,” he said.
Scoles said that the other members of Great Country are what keep him playing. “I love them all,” he said. “We’re family. You’re that way in any band.”
On the first and third Saturday of each month, Great Country plays for a square dance at the Martinsburg Activity Center. Inside the activity center is a large dance floor with a stage for the band and plenty of space for dancing. There is always someone on the dance floor moving to the authentic country sound of a Hank Williams song or skipping through the steps to a fun and lively square dance.
Great Country’s band members play for the love and joy it brings them. “If you’ve got a problem,” said Scoles, “you can sit down with the guitar and probably any instrument anybody plays and just pick at it for a while. And pretty soon your problem’s gone.”
Great Country will be playing at Martinsburg Activity Center in from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. this coming Saturday, Oct. 20. There is a $5 entrance fee.