When Cash For Junkers reminisce about their seven years together as one of Missoula’s premiere throw-down hoe-down bands, they recall small-town drinking, strange audience encounters and spirited live performances. After innumerable gigs—in venues ranging from backroom bars to large-scale weddings halls, parties and fundraisers—Cash For Junkers will play just three more shows before calling it good and going their separate ways.
“It’s a really healthy breakup,” says fiddler and vocalist Grace McNamee. “There’s never been this big rancorous explosion…it’s just about where people are.”
And though the catalyst for splitting is attributed to mandolin and guitar player John Rosett’s upcoming move to North Carolina, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Tyler Roady says that Cash for Junkers is ready to move on.
“For us, musically, it’s much better now than it’s ever been, but that’s not the whole piece of the puzzle,” he says. “I think with our original lineup it was a golden era because everybody was totally committed and completely on the same page. I mean, if Grace and I were still of one mind and in the same place in life, maybe we would continue on in another form…but that’s not the case. So with John leaving it’s time to just start over.”
As the longest playing members of Cash For Junkers, Roady, McNamee and Rosett have a strong rapport. Roady and former CFJ member Marco Littig moved to Missoula from Minneapolis and played only a few gigs before gaining the musical services of McNamee and Rosett. They’ve seen other members come and go, and speak highly of all of them, including Littig and current members Steve Kalling (bass) and Raleigh Sharbono (drums). They make playful jabs at one another and laugh uproariously about some unlikely situations they’ve found themselves in as an original country band playing around Montana and the Northwest.
“We’ve had a lot of those experiences where we get a little slice of different communities,” says Roady.
One in particular happened when they unexpectedly ended up in Jordan, a town made infamous by the 1996 Montana Freemen standoff. It was a few days before the July 4 weekend and an off-night, but Cash for Junkers had their instruments handy so they went down to the bar.
“And, you know, it was a little freaky,” says Roady. “You go in there and there’s FBI caps as collectors items all over the wall.” They were hoping to play for tips, says Rosett, “but the only tip we got is a guy told me to get out of town quickly.
But then they really liked us,” McNamee adds, “’cause they were getting on their phones and calling their neighbors to come down to the bar.”
Rosett shakes his head laughing and finishes the story: “Then a flurry of free beers started coming our way. They were into it.”
Though they loved playing small towns, Roady says it was difficult at times to mesh with audiences who sometimes requested CCR songs rather than show interest in original material. “In small towns, they kind of think of bands as living jukeboxes,” Rosett says. “Like: ‘You’ve heard of that song, you must be able to play it.’ Well, no. We can’t play it because we don’t care to learn it. That’s not what we do, and it’s hard to be diplomatic.”
Apart from the small town tavern shows, there were also unexpected gigs. At a street festival in Choteau, a man approached them and asked what they were doing later.
“He said, ‘I’ve got some people out here and I can give you guys a couple of meals and a place to stay if you’ll play around the campfire,’” remembers Rosett. “We went out there and came over this hill and there’re tepees all arranged. It was just beautiful.” The band is set to play the guy’s upcoming wedding before breaking up.
And then there were the old days at Charlie B’s. Cash For Junkers, as many locals will remember, played Sunday nights squished into the corner of the wood-floored Missoula bar cranking out country swing tunes to a wassailing crowd. At the time, in 2000, they were chosen Best Band by the readers of the Independent.
All three long-time members agree that it’s the live performances that have made Cash For Junkers so popular over the years. Though they’ve released two CDs, they say they’re not satisfied with the recordings, mostly because they don’t capture the energy of their live shows, or the newest batch of original material that reflects how far they’ve come as musicians.
With two more shows before the final farewell, the Junkers are gearing up for the next chapter. McNamee plans to play periodically with local musician Tom Catmull, and Roady is already gathering a new band. They will miss, they say, the Cash for Junkers family. “It’s gonna be sad,” says McNamee with smile. “But it’s also gonna be okay.”
Cash for Junkers play one of their last three shows at The Other Side with Broken Valley Roadshow Saturday, Sept. 10, at 10 PM. Proceeds from the band, bar and staff will be donated to the Red Cross to aid Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. $4, or $6 if you’re under 21.