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Co-founder Carl Pruett to be honored at BBQ & Blues

By Sherri Ellington It all started with hot wings at a chamber of commerce party and notes scribbled on napkins. Now in its 10th year, BBQ & Blues will honor one of its founders with the Georgia Music Legend Award that was his own brainchild. Awardee Carl Pruett, whose band Crossroads will perform at the Saturday night BBQ & Blues show, is adamant everyone know the festival wasn’t his idea alone ‘“ he gives much of the credit to the late Mayor Dewaine Bell and his (should be) famous words: ‘There’s only one thing I like better than hot wings and that’s barbecue.’ That was back in 2003. Bell and Pruett were at Leesa Woodall’s Heritage House florist shop, sharing beer, wings and conversation in a corner during a Chamber After Hours. Woodall, who was in charge of the old agriculture center, wanted to hold a country music event there. Pruett had mocked up an event poster featuring a tractor riding fellow wielding a guitar. ’Dwaine and I were good friends,’ said Pruett. ‘He got (my wife) Diane and I over in the corner and we started talking about maybe having a hot wing contest. I mentioned I had a blues band. He said he had an R&B band, 4U2C. The next thing you know Lester Ranew was donating a pair of tractor trailers for the stage and we had a barbecue cook- off instead of a hot wings contest, with our bands playing plus a big name act.’ In 2005, cook-offs were held downtown while the music festival ‘“ the first featured the late Chick Willis ‘“ was at the ag center on Roberta Drive. In 2006, Mayor Bell set city workers on a successful quest to find a grant to rehab the collapsed Ritz Theatre into the park it is today. The music moved there in 2007. ’Dewaine was so smart. He knew it was going to work,’ said Pruett. ‘He was so proud of the Ritz Park being built. Our vision turned into a miniamphitheater to be used for all types of events.’ He also credits the continuing success to the community’s willingness to volunteer. ’My wife and I have a stake in Barnesville,’ he said. ‘People here get together and pull off something like this. Community pride and involvement is a rare thing. It’s the people who care enough to give a little of their time and effort to see this come to fruition.’ Pruett was unaware he was getting a dual award ‘“ the other one this year goes to bluesman Robert Lee Coleman ‘“ until he was invited to dinner by organizers, ostensibly to get his new shirt. Then chairman T.J. Imberger pointed out his name on the back. ’I was speechless,’ said Pruett. ‘I don’t deserve this. There are a lot of people behind the scenes who make the music, just like Alan Walden.’ Pruett arranged for Walden, a friend, to get the first Legends award. Then, there’s ‘Uncle Le-Roy and the Way-Back Machine,’ as Pruett calls his own musical history. He has been on the Georgia music scene for decades, switching seamlessly from in front of the spotlights to behind the scenes. ’Before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan I was listening to music very intently,’ he said. ‘My first favorite groups were guitar based, like The Ventures. I got hooked and wanted to do it.’ So, after discussion with their respective Santas, he and some friends all received guitars for Christmas. ’I got a Sears Silvertone acoustic with a neck the size of my leg. It’s still hard to play,’ he said. ‘The deal was if I learned to play it I’d get an electric guitar. I got a Harmony electric the next Christmas.’ By the time he was 14 Pruett and his friends were professional musicians, receiving about $15 each per gig. The first was at the annual Central Georgia EMC meeting. ’We thought we were millionaires and none of us were old enough to drive yet,’ he said. ‘We formed Buckeye in 1979 and were together for 40 years.’ In the mid-80s the band, which had a repertoire of country, rock and oldies, arranged a gig at a newly rescued and not yet rehabilitated old school in Monticello. As they were setting up, the mayor asked if his daughter Patricia could sing a song or two with the band. They agreed. ’She was 16 or 17 years old and so shy she wouldn’t meet our eyes. She liked to sing Linda Ronstadt and Patsy Cline’ he said. ‘We got booked there three or four times that year, then Tricia Yearwood went to Nashville, recorded a commercial and was discovered by Garth Brooks. You know the rest of the story.’ Pruett, who is now sales manager for Fun 101 in Thomaston, began getting involved with putting on the show at the Lakewood Amphitheater, where big-name performers helped raise money for the March of Dimes in the early 1990s. Dealing with booking agencies for these shows also had a good side effect for Buckeye. ’My band opened for folks like David Allan Coe and the Kentucky Headhunters. It was good exposure, a delight and an honor. We got to rub elbows with a lot of neat people,’ Pruett said. ‘I also learned the skills about how to produce shows back then ‘“ groups, bookings, contracts.’ By 1996 he was working with Walden on the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which opened that fall after Pruett, among others, helped find treasure troves of musical memorabilia. ’It was a statewide scramble for about two years,’ said Pruett, whose particular contribution was talking a Griffin Veterans of Foreign Wars post into turning over old contracts for Ray Charles and James Brown, among others. About 2011, the members let the popular Buckeye band die off and Pruett began jamming with his friend Rick Maxwell of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Maxwell suggested throwing together a blues-oriented band with some dance music mixed in and Crossroads was born. Often found at Lake Tobesofkee, the band is used to filling the pavilion, the nearby restaurant ‘“ and the water as boaters pull up for their own private parties. ’Crossroads does pretty well,’ Pruett said. ‘We do something a little original. We do the first set acoustic and the second electric. It’s a blast. I love playing.’

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