The band’s career is clearly on the upswing: the Bourbon Kings were selected as ‘the US cultural envoy’ by the Seychelles Tourism Board to open the Carnaval International de Victoria, where they played in front of 25,000 people last March.
Their most recent gig in Phuket was last month’s closing party for Cape Panwa Raceweek, when they played as a trio with Country Music song-of-the-year award winning songwriter Gene Nelson.
Michael Quinn, the band’s founder and songwriter, calls Minneapolis, Minnesota home but notes he was “an Air Force brat, I grew up all over.” Interested in music from “the time I was in diapers,” Quinn went with his grandmother to see Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry – and was hooked.
The core band comprises Quinn; his wife, cellist JoAnne Peterson, also from the US; and fiddler Timothy Booth, from England – but Bourbon King members are found in the US, Egypt, China and now Thailand. The group plays ‘roots rock’ and ‘Americana’.
Tim, 30, is from Lincoln, where he studied classical violin from age eight. At 17 he was introduced to improvisation and never looked back. His interests centre on English, Irish and Scottish folk.
Four years ago he left England. In Cairo, Egypt, he met Michael and JoAnne. Quinn was playing then with an eight-piece, and Booth was invited to join.
After a year, Quinn and Peterson departed to Shanghai. Booth, whose wife was expecting, decided to remain in Egypt – and was swept up in the ‘Arab Spring’ revolution.
“Local guys started knocking on doors – said every man was expected to join in protecting the neighbourhood. So I put on the white arm-band, became a revolutionary, and manned checkpoints. It was fun till they brought in the machine guns,” Booth said.
More interested in making music than war, he joined Quinn and Peterson in China, and the band remain based in Shanghai.
Visiting Phuket, the Bourbon Kings ran into Gene Nelson at Chalong Bay’s Sandbar, a seaside bistro frequented by Phuket’s yachting community. There, all unrehearsed, they played a couple sets, had a lot of fun (the point of the group’s music is fun), so Gene became an adjunct member.
Nelson grew up on Harker’s Island, off North Carolina, a place so rural “I didn’t use a telephone till I was 10”. Both his father and grandfather were guitarists, and began, like so many Southerners, performing in church. He dropped out of college to join a rock ‘n’ roll band, then set off on his own across the US.
“I stopped in Nashville, played my songs for some people: they told me to keep going.”
Eventually he came back to Nashville, determined to make it as a songwriter – which he quickly did by writing Kathy Mattea’s 1988 signature hit Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses. Since then, George Jones, Trisha Yearwood, Rascal Flatts, Keith Whitley, Reba McEntire, Doug Stone, Don Williams, Diamond Rio, Patti Page, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Glen Campbell have performed his music.
He’s had three number one country music hits, and won the SESAC country song of the year award for This Everyday Love, which he wrote with Danny Wells. SESAC is one of the three principal performing rights organisations.
All the while he was in Nashville, Nelson felt the pull of the sea. With song royalties obviating the necessity of scrambling to place songs, he bought a yacht, and six years ago sailed away, finally arriving in Phuket last year, where he sits on his deck and plays guitar, occasionally sitting in with friends.
Michael Quinn and the Bourbon Kings will be back around year end, with Peterson on ‘cello, and Nelson filling in with his usual mastery on classical guitar.
Pay attention when they play Emily – it’s gonna be a big hit some day.