Scene & Heard

Trio brings eclectic mix of country, rock

Band member Heath Whitney forms one-third of The Canyoneers’ trio. Richard O’Neill/Photo provided

COTTAGE GROVE – You could say that the Canyoneers are the ultimate family band, even though their subject matter – like ”Death in the Country,” a tragic song about Hank Williams Sr. dying at the age of 29 – isn’t always for the squeamish type.
The three-piece band is made up of husband and wife Ben and Mary Beth James on guitar and Heath Whitney on bass.
Ben and Mary Beth have two children, ages 2 and 4, at home in Veneta. Whitney has three children, the youngest of which is 14.
”It’s hard, but we draw a lot of inspiration from (raising the kids),” Ben said after playing Saturday night, Feb. 1, at the Axe & Fiddle. ”We want to be family-friendly.”
”No one has delusions of grandeur; we’re not expecting to go out on the road,” Whitney said. ”It would be nice to play a festival now and then, but otherwise, we just play a few local spots.”
Whitney was a crowd favorite because he has – in their words – poked and prodded many of them … because he’s a licensed acupuncturist in Eugene, where he has practiced since 2011.
Ben and Mary Beth have noteworthy careers, too. She’s a psychotherapist and he works in IT for a media company in Eugene.
Together, they cook up this eclectic mix of outlaw country and desert rock that had everyone clapping their hands and tapping, if not stomping, their feet.
”That’s our music,” Ben James said when asked to describe the soul-clap genre that has been used to describe the Canyoneers. ”Boot-scootin’, dancing … enjoy the rhythm and the harmonies,” he said. ”Many are based in spiritual songs somewhere.”
Some of their music had that old-time revival feeling to it. Sitting still while listening was not an option.
”When I joined the group a few years ago there was a lot of pot-smoking and partying,” Whitney said. ”But now we’re all into the dharma and we all do meditation every day.”
The band has stayed busy. They released a four-song demo on Jan. 28. They previously did two rock albums and one EP, and are currently working on several new songs, including the aforementioned ”Death in the Country.”
”Hank had spina bifida and hired this kid to drive him to a show in Ohio,” Ben said. ”Then he died in the backseat of the car. It’s a really sad story.”
Hank Sr.’s legacy and his music will live on.
And now, thanks to the Canyoneers, a song about his controversial death can be added to the archives.



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