Blanketed in a World of Music

JD Westmoreland – Rumpke Mountain Boys  – by Ryan Neeley

Upright Bassist JD Westmoreland of  The Rumpke Mountain Boys has been blanketed in a world filled with music from a very young age.   Born in Fairfield, CA, Westmoreland’s parents moved to Memphis, TN in1976 when he was three years old  to pursue a career in music with Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, best known for his work on many of Al Green’s popular soul hits such as Take Me To the River and Love and Happiness, both co-written with the Memphis legend.   From an early age, musicians were around the house, as his parents opened a recording studio, “Willie Mitchell (owner of Memphis Hi Records label that released albums by Green and other Memphis soul artists) was like a Grandpa to me,” Westmoreland said in a recent interview with Appalachian Jamwich.  “I just thought everyone grew up like that, it wasn’t really any big deal.”

The tall, lanky curly-haired career musician first real attempt at playing an instrument was the violin at the age of five.  “I didn’t like the rigidness of the teaching style, so I quit, and tried the saxophone a little later.   It was the same with that, I just couldn’t stand the rigidness of it.”   But since there were always instruments in the house, Westmoreland would always “tinker” around with whatever he could get his hands on that made noise.  “I wasn’t into playing notes and chords, I just loved making sounds.   It really tickled me to make a noise with an instrument, and as I discovered different instruments and things make different noises, it really gave me a lot of joy.”  One of the instruments was the guitar, and he “played that thing eight hours a day,” and was getting pretty good by age 8.   The first instrument he purchased was a $75 fake Gibson (or Fibsons as I prefer to call them) with wood grain and a funny shape.   “I cut grass until I came up with the money to get it, and my father bought the amp for $25.   He didn’t tell me he was going to, I think he just saw that I took the initiative to work for it and he wanted to do that for me.   It was way too big for me but I thought it was cool because it had wood-grain.”

Westmoreland went on to run a studio and worked as a sound engineer for a while, picking up studio jobs from time to time, then decided to go to school for Theology at Spring Hill College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college in Mobile, Alabama.   After two years attending there, he came to the realization that “Music is my obsession,” and he needed to perform, “I was born to perform.”   So he quit his Theology studies and went to school studying under accomplished Turkish-American composer Kameron Ince at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at University of Memphis to major in Theory and Music Composition.  There he won numerous awards for composition, including the Smit Composition Award, and compostion credits on North Mississippi AllStars (Polaris 2003) and for the Christian rock band Clear.   He picked up some gigs along the way, playing in the 1993 HORDE tour with a band called Patoombah and did session work for the likes of Willy De Ville  “Horse of a Different Color”, where he plays Tiples, a small guitar with a soprano tone.   In 2000, he put out  a solo CD “Soon to be Crows in the Garden,” which got high reviews from critics.

Also in the early part of 2000, Westmoreland started playing bass.  “There just aren’t that many bassists out there.”    He then hooked up with Memphis jazz legend Herman Green, founder of Herman Green and the Green Machine, and toured with Willie Waldman, playing upright electric bass.  In 2003, custom bass maker began to sponsor him and later designed the “Westmoreland Bass” – He went on to play electric upright in Memphis rock and roll band Minivan Blues Band, and one of his side projects, string band Devil Train, is an offshoot of that group.  The band is a local legend in Memphis, playing each Monday at the Buccaneer, one of Memphis’ most famous dive bars, and The Rumpke Mountain Boys have a standing date each Tuesday at Stanleys Pub in Cincinnati.  “I don’t like having days off,” he said. “I’d prefer to be playing a gig every night.”   And you can tell that it’s not about the money, as the gas money that Westmoreland spends on a regular basis to make it from his home in Memphis to shows across Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky has to be astronomical.  And on days without a gig, most musicians schedule a lesson or two to make a few extra dollars,and with his background, he could charge upwards of $200 per hour, but not Westmoreland.  “I understand and have nothing against musicians that have to do it, I just won’t charge people for lessons.   I don’t believe in it.   I would work in a fast food job before I’d charge someone to learn something like music.   It was a gift God gave to me, and in my opinion it cheapens it by charging for it and ‘rationing it out’ by the hour.

In November of 2011, Cincinnati band The Rumpke Mountain Boys contacted Westmoreland, who had sat in with them for some gigs in the past, to join the band, as electric bassist Travis Gates left the group in the midst of their first nationwide tour.  On November 13th, Westmoreland played his first gig as the full time upright bassist in the Rumpke Mountain Boys in Boulder, CO after driving from Memphis and accepting the slot a few days prior. At the time, he was playing gigs with Devil Train, Grace Askew and the Black Market Goods, Damfools, Minivan Blues Band and the Liz Wise Band, but he accepted anyway, a testament to his drive and dexterity, as each of these bands play different styles of music.   “JD is just such a good fit,” said Jason “Huck” Huckaby recently during a chilly late night Rumpke picking session around a camper’s blazing fire in the wee hours of the morning . “It adds such a fullness to the band – it was going down the kind of psychedlic route before (with Travis) – now it has that natural sound.”    

Since Westmoreland’s arrival on the Rumpke trashwagon, the band has become one of the most sought-after festival acts in the east and  has acquired over 7,000 facebook fans with their signature brand of bluegrass named Trashgrass, also the name of the boy’s new release and the first since JD joined, coming out November 2nd.    Westmoreland is also an accompished songwriter, penning a number of selections on the album, including the heartwrenching song Low Me.  “that song is about a girl that will tell you one thing but then go whisper something in someone else’s ear or that goes running off to someone else.   You know that type of girl – and you just can’t let them go, “he stated.

His energy and passion shine through in his stage presence, with black framed glasses hiding dark, trusting eyes and a distinct voice that has an old time feel with a pinch of blues, jazz and country.  So, pick up Trashgrass on November 2nd and go see JD Westmoreland and the Rumpke Mountain Boys when they come to your area for a CD release party, and blanket yourself in the music of the Rumpke Mountain Boys.   Just try not to spill any whiskey on it.



Nov 2nd – Inner Circle Cincy – Cincinnati, OH

Nov 3rd – Willie’s Locally Known – Lexington, KY

Nov 8th – The Bluebird – Bloomington, IN

Nov 9th – Woodlands Tavern – Columbus, OH

Nov 10th – Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, OH