Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 26, 2013

Red, white and blue are their signature colors.
Mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass are their instruments.
But their sound is a little tougher to pinpoint.
The Gospel Plowboys add a bluegrass twang to old hymns.
“We play songs that have sort of been forgotten about,” band leader David Murph said. “People come up to us all the time and tell us we played a song they used to hear when they went to church with their grandparents.”
Their wardrobe — a white dress shirt, blue bib overalls and a red tie — is reminiscent of a simpler time, Murph said.
The same goes for their music.
“It’s all acoustic, no electrics at all,” Murph said. “We wanted to establish our sound on vocals, so we work very hard on three and four part harmonies.
“People only sit so long for instruments, but they will listen to vocals because they tell a story.”
The band’s old-fashioned style is stripped down, but it remains both booming and honest.
“It’s pure bluegrass gospel,” Murph said.
Murph said the group’s focus stems from a greater goal.
“We’re trying to get back to a different time,” Murph said. “During the Great Depression our country was in an awful mess and we came out of it back then and grew and prospered because we put God first.
“If we put God first we can do it again.”
Since the Gospel Plowboys debuted at Safe Harbor Baptist Church last August, they’ve become well-known in and around Rowan County.
“It’s just been wide open ever since, it’s amazing what has happened,” Murph said. “It’s all we can do to keep up.”
The men have full-time jobs and families, so they typically only play about four gigs a month.
But there have been times where the demand was so high that they performed more often.
“Some weekends we may do two shows in one day,” guitar player Mike Jenkins said.
The band plays primarily at churches, but they don’t turn down opportunities to perform in different settings.
They are set to take the stage at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Blue Ridge Music Center, a popular bluegrass venue in Galax, Va.
“When they contacted us, it took us by surprise,” Murph said. “It’s very prestigious to play there, some of the biggest names have been through there.
“I never would’ve thought that would happen to us.”
Murph said the band’s YouTube page has helped them reach a larger audience.
“People all the way from Kentucky have contacted us because they heard our music and wanted us to play a benefit concert,” he said. “We’ve been contacted from all over.”
But the band doesn’t change its sound when they play outside of churches.
“Wherever we go, we’re the same,” Murph said. “It’s always about the message.”
The message Murph speaks of is one of faith.
“We’re Christians first, then musicians,” he said.
Guitar player David Brown said the group’s goal is to “reach souls for Christ.”
“God gave us a gift, the ability to play instruments and the ability to sing,” he said. “God has put before us a mission to go out and reach the lost folks and that’s what we want to do.”
Murph said he started praying about a way to use music to minister to people two years before the group formed.
Initially, he wanted to it to be an outreach from his church, Safe Harbor Baptist.
But when the idea for a bluegrass band came to him, Murph realized he’d need to step beyond the church walls.
That’s where Jenkins, Brown, John Goodson and Andrew Brown came in.
Each of the men attend different churches, but they all had the same desire to spread the gospel.
“When I went to visit each individual person and told them my vision, they immediately agreed to participate,” Murph said. “Each individual here is as good as I know, as good as any professional I know.
“I told John, ‘If the music’s good, it’s going to go, but if not this is going to blow up in our face.’”
The men practice every Thursday for several hours, carving out time to work on new material.
Murph does the majority of the arranging, taking old hymns and revamping them.
“We take a song and really make it our own,” he said.
The band plans to release their first album in June.
“We’re so blessed to have come this far,” Murph said. “But I kind of knew we would be successful because this came from the Lord.”

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.