"Our parents would take us to Grange Hall dances all around. We weren't teenagers yet; when we got tired we'd just fall asleep while the music played. Afterwards our father would bring home the musicians and they'd play all night." so recalls Donna Smith of her rural Thurston County upbringing in a musical family. "Our father played guitar, a little fiddle." Music was an entire family affair: "We’d play music all night then we’d all load up in the car and go to the beach, dig clams with the sunrise." Now that's some Northwest livin'.
In the early '60s Donna's mother helped form a sibling country band along with Donna's older brother Bob and a couple other local musical wranglers. In 1964 they began a residency at the South Union Grange Hall near Maytown, Washington the first Saturday of each month, which continues to the present day, over 58 years steady (and counting). "It's been a musical life for us."
When Bob and Donna first started playing the monthly dances, "The Grange used to pack the place. Everyone was our age or older, our parents always came to the dances." Bob and Donna's combo became a local favorite, they played several grange dances around the area. "We didn’t have a name to start with and had a contest, decided on the 'Country Four.'" the winning entry was suggested by Grange member Bob Williams. "He's not alive anymore. That's what's happened to a lot of our people. His wife Diana is still involved, helping to put on the dances. Everyone pitches in." Besides the South Union Grange Hall, they also play the third Sunday of every month at Swede Hall, Rochester, Washington.
The line-up of the Country Four is loose knit, with several local players jumping in at different times, which is why the name was changed to the Country Four and More. Donna plays fiddle, electric bass guitar, mandolin, accordion and piano. "We don't practice. People request a song, and if we don't know it I learn it over the next month, type out the lyrics and when we meet back at the Grange I say, 'follow me' to whoever shows up that month." It works. "We don't read music, we just do it by ear." Then as an after thought she adds "We're in our eighties." Music keeps them young.
Donna's son George Smith, a drummer whose played in local Olympia punk bands (Danger Mouse) decided it was time to document this unique local country institution. He invited Bob and Donna to his home studio where he accompanied them on drums for a batch of their favorite songs, now released as a compact disc on his own George's Records, Bob and Donna, which is available now from The K Mail Order Dept. Donna says "I'm excited about the fact he's doing it, I think it's great." The Grange Hall regulars were also excited about the new CD. Earlier this month the Country Four and More set a stack of Bob and Donna CDs on the edge of the stage with a bucket labeled "At Least $5.00." Most the CDs disappeared, and everyone paid more than $5.00.
The Country Four and More have no plans to make any more recordings, but the live shows continue, as long as the band members are around. "If we can drag ourselves there, we’ll do it."