Lester T. Raww from Arkansas started the Pine Box Boys in 2003, originally planning to perform new renditions of old murder ballad classics like “The Knoxville Girl,” and “Fair Eleanor.” Soon, however, he found he was composing his own murder ballads, taking many liberties with the form. This lead to their first album, Arkansas Killing Time.
“In my mind, I wanted something that sounded like Willie Nelson in a punk band. I even tried to play a nylon-string guitar hoping it would sound like Trigger. This did not work. At all. So, I switched to a Martin; we sped up the tunes to bluegrass velocities and, well, here we are.”
None of this explains the emphasis on murder, misery, and zombies. Lester blames this on his mother:
“Shegrewupreal,REALcountry—outhouse,Searscatalog,if youcatchmydrift—sosheraisedmeonallthoseold songs. Before bed, she would sing me to sleep with such murder ballads as ‘Pretty Polly,’ ‘Skin and Bones Lady,’ and ‘The Knoxville Girl.’ She must know ten more verses to that song than anyone ever sings. And she liked horror films. Not so much now, but back in the day . . . whooo, we watched some scary stuff.”
Lester fashioned all of this into his unique brand of music: not exactly bluegrass—more like “blackgrass.” Bassist Colonel Timothy Leather and drummer Steven “Your Uncle” Dodds joined him in those early days having played with Lester in The Zag Men, a group specializing in performing live soundtracks to old silent horror films.
Somehow the sound just wasn’t twangy enough. Uncle Dodds suggested that they bring banjo-picker Alex “Possum” Carvidiintothegroup.Thesefourbecamethecoreof thebandandenteredtheexcitingworldof itinerantmusicianship, traveling the States and parts of Europe.
STAB! was their second release. While Arkansas Killing Time included many slower numbers, this new album was the result of playing faster songs for thirsty audiences and remains their best seller to date. These first two albums, combined with their third release Child of Calamity, tell the disjointed narrative of a fictitious killer named Willie and his many victims.
They are currently working on their fourth album, Tales From The Emancipated Head. They can also be seen in Dr. Astronaut Body’s 2009 concert film Good Evening, Folks. We’re The Pine Box Boys.