If you’ve ever visited the small town of Surgoinsville, Tennessee and traveled down Main Street, you probably didn’t pay much attention to the modest old building that sits next door to the Surgoinsville Police Dept. If you’re a true fan of bluegrass music you might want to consider turning around and heading back to Surgoinsville. That unassuming old building is Bellamy Hardware, arguably the best bluegrass venue in the state of Tennessee.
The long history of Bellamy Hardware began back in October 1908 when it was opened by Neal Bellamy. Bellamy’s was the only continuous business in town for over 80 years, servicing the Surgoinsville area as a hardware store, selling feed, farm supplies and other things you might look to find in a country store. In the day, it would be a two day round trip from Knoxville to Surgoinsville to have a supply delivery brought to the hardware store.
Through the years, Bellamy remained a strong presence in the Surgoinsville community, owned by the Bellamy family all the while. Some years later, young Surgoinsville native (and the towns current mayor) Johnny Greer, worked at his family’s filling station, changing oil in cars and various other odd jobs; as Greer puts it, “Nothin’ major.” As a youngster and neighbor of the business, Johnny and his younger brother Billy frequented Bellamy’s Hardware on a regular basis in search of the things that were important to boys of that era, things like fish hooks and B-B’s.
As the two young brothers grew up in the community, the Greer brothers became interested in rock & roll music during their teenage years and formed a popular local band called The Odds & Ends. As the brothers began playing many local high school dances and sock hops in the area, The Odds & Ends gained quite a following around Surgoinsville and surrounding Hawkins County. Billy Greer decided to make rock music his life’s work and has been with the band Kansas since 1986, and is currently working with his own band, Seventh Key. Johnny, all the while keeping his passion and love affair with rock & roll, became interested in bluegrass and formed and played in many local area bands through the years while staying in the area working for TVA.
As their life paths took different routes, both Greer brothers remained true to their music roots through the years, and both still play within their developed genre. Billy Greer tours the country with Seventh Key, and still maintains his status as bassist for Kansas. Johnny still lives in Surgoinsville with his wife Teresa, serves the community in his current political role in Hawkins County, and still enjoys doing reunion shows with the Odds and Ends as their long-standing drummer, and continues to play mandolin in various bluegrass band configurations.
The Mayor has many varied interests besides music, sewer systems and county business. He has a love for and restores old cars, and he and wife Teresa share a love of buying and selling antiques. In the year 2000, the Greer’s antique collection found a great new home in Surgoinsville’s diamond in the community when the Bellamy Hardware building came on the market for sale by the Bellamy family due to the passing and settlement of the estate of a family member. With a long serving pride in their community, the Greers immediately took interest in obtaining the building. Along with Mickey and Susan Houston, the couple purchased Bellamy Hardware with an idea to display and sell antiques on one side of the building and feature live bluegrass bands on the other.
The idea worked.
Goin’ Ape – Shadow Ridge: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/goin_ape.mp3]
There was considerable clean up involved in converting the 100 year old hardware store into a music and antique venue, but the Greer’s love of the history of the building which is second to none in ambiance and acoustics, kept them on track to get the business open. Once the clean up and necessary renovation was complete in 2003, the first bluegrass show was held featuring Johnny’s band project at the time, Highway 11, named for the stretch of road where Bellamy sits, known as the old Highway 11W. Since that night, the venue has never missed opening for the 3rd Saturday of the month bluegrass show, and has become one of the most popular bluegrass music venues in East Tennessee.
The wood floors, beams and rafters offer a ‘sweet’ acoustic; giving the music played on the hardware’s modest stage a great depth, and has made Bellamy a destination for many hundreds of bands. Bellamy has hosted both local bands of the area, and those who are not local and who are willing to travel to take the Bellamy stage. The hardware has also been sought by several mainstream acts as THE venue when they are seeking out a unique place to record CD projects due to the great acoustic. In 2008, Darrell Webb recorded his CD, Live from Bluegrass at Bellamy at the hardware with Rhonda Vincent and members of the Rage at the time, and featured special guests Bobby Hicks, and Marty Raybon.
I Ain’t Broke – Rough Edges: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/i_aint_broke.mp3]
Each Bellamy show features an act on the main stage in the “hardware” room where there were once stacks and piles of feed and farm supplies, while out in the antique store, there is always a jam going of folks who just want to get out and play a little. Greer has long been an advocate of youth in music and has been a great supporter of youngsters just learning to play coming to the hardware to get a feel for what it’s like to jam with seasoned musicians, and maybe pick up a pointer or two as a bonus.
Many young area musicians have taken the Bellamy stage at the half-time show when the Mayor usually rounds up some of the folks who have been in the jam outside and plays as a formed group to give the main act a break. His band for the night is affectionately known by comedienne and “voice of Bluegrass at Bellamy”, Sweet Rosie Jones, as “Johnny and his Jammers.” Sweet Rosie Jones, aunt of Johnny Greer, brings her own brand of southern comedy to the stage at Bellamy every month, and features clean, family-friendly dialog that keeps the house grinnin’ during a break from the pickin’.
Rosie delivers live commercials, and introduces the bands on the stage in a reminiscent Minnie Pearl style, completing the ambiance of a charming atmosphere at Bellamy.
Rosie Jones: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/comedy_by_rosie_jones.mp3]
In a recent interview with Johnny Greer for the Local Grass Radio Show which records the 3rd Saturday shows at Bellamy for rebroadcast, Greer stated that he wanted to have a place for musicians to play, that would be a place where he, himself, would enjoy playing.
If the crowd, the returning fans and bands requesting to play Bellamy are any evidence, all indicators prove that Mayor Greer has indeed been successful in his efforts. The acoustic is second to none, the crowd is always good, and there is an unbeatable atmosphere in the heart of downtown Surgoinsville at Bellamy Hardware.
Next Sunday Darlin’ – Shadow Ridge: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/next_sunday_darlin.mp3]
Bellamy Hardware is on the web at www.bluegrassatbellamy.com, although currently, the URL is pointing temporarily to their FaceBook page while the web site undergoes a facelift.
Bellamy is located at 1714 Main Street, Surgoinsville, TN and bluegrass is hosted on the 3rd Saturday night of every month. The public is welcome to come join the open jam in the antique store. Booking information for the main stage at Bellamy Hardware is available by contacting Johnny Greer by email.