Billy Two Shoes Band with rural roots thrives on feeding others
What began five years ago as a personal challenge for two musicians to record an album has resulted in four full-length albums of original material and more than $25,000 donated to food pantries in rural Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The four-man band Billy Two Shoes performs about 30 concerts a year, donating all the proceeds from its booking fees, compact disc sales and marketing items to designated food pantries.
Band members are Sean Jenkins, 33, of Hilliard; James Gettles, 38, of Dublin; Josh Coy, 38, of the Discovery District in Columbus; and Josh Lawson, 33, of Hamilton in suburban Cincinnati.
All four migrated to central Ohio from economically depressed areas, giving each personal experience with fighting hunger.
Jenkins was raised in Zanesville, Gettles is from Gallipolis, Coy is from Youngstown and Lawson is from Fairfield.
The group uses the tagline, "Feedin' Folks Since 2008," on all its albums and marketing and promotional materials.
This year, proceeds from Columbus area shows will benefit St. John's Food Pantry in Olde Town East.
"All the proceeds are donated to food pantries. ... It's a great feeling for us to do what we enjoy and to help people who are in need," said Gettles, one of the co-founders of Billy Two Shoes.
The band originated in 2008 when Gettles and former member Jason Cowans sought to record an album.
"It was really for no other reason than to just say we did it," Gettles said.
The album, Appalachian Memoirs, was circulated among family and friends and sold at concerts the duo performed.
While supporting the first album, Gary Harden, originally from Hinton, W.Va., began playing with Billy Two Shoes.
Harden, who lives in North Carolina, occasionally plays with the band today, but remains an integral part of the group, mixing and mastering the band's subsequent three albums.
Jenkins, who was added to the band's lineup in 2010, describes the group's sound as alternative country steeped in bluegrass.
"It's been called 'hillbilly Pink Floyd,' too," Jenkins said.
Building on the tide of improving musicianship and growing numbers at gigs, Billy Two Shoes recorded New Shoes in 2009. It featured such improvised instruments as a flute made from a PVC pipe and a penny whistle.
One of the tracks was a poem written by Gettles' great-grandfather and set to music.
"I have the piece of paper the poem is written on," he said.
Gettles' great-grandfather gave the poem, titled A Poem for a Pig, to his daughter, Gettles' grandmother.
"It was stuffed into a piggy bank and was on my grandmother's shelf. I was never allowed to touch it," Gettles said.
The band's current lineup jelled during preparations to record a third album, Full Breakfast, completed in 2010.
Coy, a banjo player joined in 2009; lead vocalist Lawson joined in 2010. Lawson also plays a guitar, harmonica and mandolin.
Gettles asked Jenkins, who plays slide guitar, to join the band after talking with him during a set break.
Local interest in the live performances of Billy Two Shoes has grown in proportion to the group's popularity on the Internet as fellow musicians sought or accepted opportunities to perform on Full Breakfast.
"We had musicians from Colorado, North Carolina and the Netherlands play with us ... and they did it free in order to help us send more money to food pantries," Gettles said.
In 2012, Billy Two Shoes recorded and released a 10-track album Bourbon for Beans, an acoustic recording completed in the studio in a single day.
All four members share in composing the lyrics and music for their recordings. The group occasionally plays a cover song live, but all four albums are original material.
When not performing, members of Billy Two Shoes have day jobs.
Gettles is employed at Audio Power Labs, Jenkins works on graphic web designs at Roy Hobbs Baseball, Coy is a graduate student at the Ohio State University and Lawson is a teacher and coach at Little Miami schools in suburban Cincinnati.
Billy Two Shoes' next scheduled performance is at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at the Rendezvous Lounge, 5835 Sawmill Road in Dublin.
For more information about the band, visit billytwoshoes.com.