It all began in Athens, GA in 2003. Ty knew Jon and Jon knew Josh and Mark knew Ty and Ty knew Scott. Scott knew Jennifer Nettles but that is a different story. Ty and Jon were asked by a local restaurant owner to organize a band to play a private party for his employees. So they called up pretty much all the musicians they knew and put together a band. The Bearfoot Hookers were formed out of that band. Ty Manning and Mark Durfield played guitar and sang, Jon Tonge played bass, Josh Skelton played drums and Scott Nicholson played keys and added harmony vocals.
Ty and Jon, both from Waycross, GA, had played together in an Athens band called Skillet. Mark had played in a couple of bands around Athens. Scott had toured the world (or at least much of the United States) with Nettles. Ty, Jon and Mark all were songwriters and had notebooks full of songs just waiting for the right opportunity to be heard. And so in late 2003, The Bearfoot Hookers began playing nearly every weekend in Athens or Waycross and anywhere in between.
In an effort to prove to venues that The Bearfoot Hookers were a serious band, they gathered in Mark's 130 year old farmhouse, which had been temporarily converted into a roughshod recording studio, over a couple of long weekends to record a collection of their original songs. This debut album became known as Sweet Pickle Grits and was released in November 2003 to the delight of the band's growing base of fans. A steady performing schedule followed and songwriting continued. With a new collection of songs, The Bearfoot Hookers buckled down in famed Athens recording studio Chase Park Transduction in 2004. The recording engineer on these sessions was Marcus Thompson. The Bearfoot Hookers' second full-length album, titled Life at the Bar, was released in December 2004.
Art by Mack Williams
The reviewing press began to take notice and The Bearfoot Hookers were selected as one of Flagpole Magazine's "Bands to Watch in 2005". The Hookers received comparisons to Athens musical heroes The Drive-By Truckers and Redneck Greece Deluxe as well as national acts The Bottle Rockets and Wet Willy. Regular performance schedules continued throughout 2005 and 2006. The track "Beggar's Prayer" from Life at the Bar was selected for inclusion in the 2005 AthFest Compilation CD. In 2006 The Bearfoot Hookers were presented with the Flagpole Music Award for the best band in the "Country, Americana, Roots Rock" category, a true honor shared with the band's many loyal fans. The track "I'd Rather Two-Step (than Twelve-Step)" was chosen for the 2006 AthFest Compilation CD and a newly recorded song called "Rain Don't Stop the Trains" was selected for the 2007 AthFest Compilation CD - Vol II. In 2008, the Hookers were again honored with a Flagpole Music Award for best band in the Country category.
Also in 2008, Marcus Thompson, Mississippi born guitarist and good friend of the band from the Life at the Bar recording sessions, began playing regularly with The Bearfoot Hookers. This addition added a blues slide flavor to create a three-guitar assault of country rockin' music.
Over time, The Bearfoot Hookers' original blend of traditional country, blues and rock & roll sounds became known as "Beer Drinkin' Gospel" music. This theme evolved from songs born out of the often conflicting lessons learned while growing up in the Deep South and a penchant for living a little harder than is healthy. The Hookers established a hard-earned reputation for putting on rowdy, foot-stompin', three hour (or more) shows built upon their huge catalog of original songs and deep cut covers for extra flavor.
In 2010, The Bearfoot Hookers teamed up with Waycross native and longtime friend of the band, Will Thrift to record a third full-length album with the goal of expressing the themes and struggles that they had experienced over the past years. In the view of the three songwriters, this was to be an "artist statement" of sorts. Recording engineer Will Thrift, along with Mark Durfield acting as Producer, setup a studio in an old cotton warehouse in Madison, GA and the band began recording. When interruptions from passing trains, torrential rains and freezing cold temperatures became too much to manage, the project eventually moved home to Mark Durfield's "Gypsy Rose" studio on his farm in Rutledge, GA. Nine months later the work was complete and Beer Drinkin' Gospel Revival was released. It plays like a journal of the lives of a group of musicians as they struggled to maintain their sanity while relationships failed, endured and started, while bearing witness to the damage caused by addiction, and just plain trying to keep it all together through the madness that is the rock & roll business, even on a small scale. Beer Drinkin' Gospel Revival is a very mature album with evocative song writing and outstanding musicianship. It features several guest musicians, a horn section and a beer drinking "gospel" choir.
More than 15 years have passed since The Bearfoot Hookers formed. Thankfully everybody has survived. They aren't playing together much anymore but get together to play when they can. It's always a rowdy time. The legacy of great original songs will live on through their recorded works. It is certain that the hard lessons learned will reveal new songwriting wisdom in the future works of the members of The Bearfoot Hookers.