LITTLE VALLEY — When local musician Lee Kenyon performed at the Little Valley VFW on Feb. 8, his band members and friends surprised him with an engraved pocket watch in recognition of his seven decades of playing music.
Inscribed upon the timepiece are the words, “Lee Kenyon, 70 years of music.”
Kenyon’s band is known as the Stringbusters. He said the name came about because he used to break a lot of strings when he played.
“I used to break five or six strings a night. I hardly break one anymore but, years ago, I broke a lot and I named the band the Stringbusters,” he said. “Then I switched the band’s name to the Saddle Tramps for a while. The band has had three or four different names, but now we’re back to the Stringbusters.”
At age 85, the Humphrey resident has been plucking the strings of a guitar since the tender age of 15. He learned to play the piano on his mother’s old pump organ when he was about five years old.
“Lee is still playing and having a great time. Reminds me of the forever Willie Nelson,” said Myrna Reynolds, band manager and harmonica player.
Gene Autry was his inspiration to take up the guitar. Kenyon said he used to watch Autry’s movies as a kid and he has always been his favorite singer. He said his first guitar was a Gene Autry guitar and he wishes he still had it.
“I still do some of Gene Autry’s songs and some of my favorites are ‘Canadian Rockies’ and ‘Back in the Saddle Again,’ which was his theme song,” he said. “It’s our band’s theme song, too. We end our show with Roy Roger’s song, ‘Happy Trails.’”
Kenyon recalls the days of going to Autry’s movies as a kid with his friends. He said they had to walk to town, which was six miles from his house. Sometimes they’d get a ride.
“Back then, someone would pull their car up beside you and you’d jump on the running board. Then they’d take you to town or right home,” he said. “Sometimes, during the day, there’d be three or four of us on a car riding on the running boards and up on the big fenders by the headlights. You could hang on to those headlights and big fenders.”
Reynolds said she met Kenyon three years ago when he played for an event at the former Coach Inn. She said he and his music group helped out at many of the Little Valley Lions Club’s shows and events, and it soon became apparent to her that Kenyon had a fascinating story in music.
“Lee’s repertoire of songs is huge, and he can expand and change music genres if needed,” she said. “Classic country is his favorite, of course, but he can add a Tom Jones or Tony Orlando song if asked for.”
Kenyon said the band does a couple of Jones and Orlando songs, along with a little bit of Elvis Presley, just to mix in some rock for the younger crowd. He said they also throw in some 1950s and ‘60s rock for some of the older people because most of the people who come to listen to them are from that era.
Reynolds said Kenyon is also an outstanding yodeler. She said he can yodel like “wonders.”
“I started yodeling when I was younger — probably when I started playing the guitar at 15,” he said. “I think I learned how to yodel from listening to Slim Griffin and the Country Gentlemen, and also Kenny Roberts who was another yodeler.”
Kenyon said the Stringbusters play all over locally. They perform at the Little Valley VFW about once a month, and sometimes at the Hughes Hotel in Little Valley. They also play at the Salamanca Legion and the Salamanca VFW.
(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at firstname.lastname@example.org)