at home with leroy troy
My search for interesting people to meet in Nashville resulted in this curiously blunt email from a friend's friend:
“Leroy Troy. And I mean period. You want an interesting subject? Anyone else in Tennessee is a waste of your time.”
A large claim, indeed. Within the abrupt sentences of this email lied a threatening tone… as if meeting this man was, really, for my own good.
Cursory research revealed that this Leroy Troy is a Nashville native with Grand Ole Opry credits, a genuine old-timer who lives, loves, and breathes the banjo. Raised directly under the influence of Hee Haw stars Grandpa Jones and Stringbean, as well as country staples Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, Troy is self-taught in the clawhammer style, but guided by a flea market banjo vendor named “Peanuts” and mentor Cordell Kemp, who passed down the vaudeville-style tricks learned from Uncle Dave Macon.
Frankly, I didn’t know if this was worth pursuing, but I’d recently purchased a banjo myself and thought that if nothing else, the musical side of me was curious to see what was so special about this guy.
I dropped Leroy Troy a line, and he responded, graciously inviting me up to his home in the northern reaches of Nashville, a little place called Goodlettsville.
Decked out in a straw hat, plaid shirt over plaid shirt, and roomy overalls, Leroy greets me outside of his home with a schoolboy grin. Selecting his words with slow deliberation and punctuating his Tennessean drawl with a few munches of chew tobacco, later expectorating the juices into an old bottle of Sprite, I already see this is going to be an interesting man to know.
We navigate through a few pleasantries about the weather, and proceed into his special music room, an urban scenester’s dream getaway, chock full of music paraphernalia and nostalgic charm. We shuffle through more pleasantries until I ask about the pictures framed on his wall, where he gets right down to the important things. Beside a photo of his mother and Bill Monroe, he lifts his finger and points to a man he refers to as a ‘Moonshiner’. “He gave me the first drink of homemade whisky I ever had.” Bending down, he opens a cupboard and unfurls an unlabelled mason jar, its caramel liquid contents swaying back and forth. He twists off the lid and tilts it towards me. “I’ve got some of his whisky here. This is probably the best you’ll ever have, in my opinion. Take a swig of that.”
I suddenly feel at home.
It’s apparent that Troy has pride for his music and how the craft and culture permeates his entire life, from his career, his friendships, to the homemade washtub bass sitting in the corner, his lucky Hee Haw britches, to an explosive array of country music albums, meticulously alphabetized. He talks about his experience, especially his weekly appearances on the Marty Stuart Show, with a sparkle, and then when asked about his debut on the Grand Ole Opry, he shrugs it off, saying it was “fine”, pausing before busting out one of his frequent, hearty chuckles.
At that moment, we take a break from the music to visit his friend and bandmate in the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, Lester, who runs a jam lounge, an eclectic-looking joint on a modest side road, a space frequented by regular pickers in the scene, and proud host to one-time couple Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie, post-nuptials. We spend the afternoon exploring the acres upon acres of Lester’s expansive property and adjoining goat farm, where, for a large part of this time, Troy walks around solo, and where I ultimately discover him standing in the barn, dog and goats by his side, whistling a folk tune.
Returning hours later to his music sanctuary, he picks up his banjo for 30 minutes of various covers and originals, performed with the same intensity for this single audience member as for a crowd of hundreds. And as I sit back reflecting on the day, I understand why I was pointed to Leroy Troy. For that single afternoon, I escaped from the shackles of Nashville’s tourist circle and went back to a very special time. Beyond the music, Troy and his friends ooze the old-time south like no other, almost making me forget about the modern world and all of its excessive bling, BMWs, and Bieber Fever.
And without knowing it, it’s exactly what I needed.