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By Melissa Riddle

Beulah Byrd.   Queenie Delphine.   Farley Byrd.   Dr. Harley Never, Ph.D.  

          If you haven’t met these oddly-named people already, chances are you will.  They are the members of the lovable, yet slightly off-key, gospel quartet known as “The Glory Bugles.”

          The Glory Bugles have been described as the Goodmans on a bad day, or the Stamps Quartet all stamped out.  Some have compared them to The Gaithers on acid.  But actually, it’s more like The Gaithers with acid reflux.

          The Bugles – who like to say they “put the fun in fundamental” – have always wanted to perform Gospel Music in the worst say.  And now it seems they have finally succeeded.

          Hailing from the tiny Tennessee town of Box Springs, the Bugles reside among the close-knit collection of unincorporated “bedroom” communities known as Slats...Hospital Corners...Caster...Trundle...Headboard...and Futon Holler..

          Here, the Box Springs Chamber of Commerce proudly proclaims, “If Box Springs doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.”

          In reality, the Glory Bugles are a theatrical ensemble made up of four award-winning singers, actors, songwriters and authors who have developed full-blown characters to inhabit their fictional small town.

          Nan Gurley is Queenie Delphine, owner of Taps and Tutus, a dance studio,  and director of the Box Springs Fine Arts Center.

          Wayne Gurley is Farley T. Byrd, III, Director of Sinus Affairs at the Box Springs Industrial Ammonia Plant, and founder of the Glory Bugles.

          Bonnie Keen is his wife, Beulah – a baton twirler, poodle groomer  and cosmetologist for the deceased at the Imagone Drive-Through Funeral Parlor.

          And Steve Pippin is Dr. Harley E. Never, P.H.D., (Pig and Hog Doctor), an animal psychologist affectionately known as the “Pig Whisperer” and curator of the Box Springs Swine Institute, Museum and Gift Shop. 

          Collectively, the Glory Bugles are a side-splittingly bad gospel quartet, complete with outdated hairdos and garish costumes designed to magnify the bad theology and legalism found in their music, captured for all posterity on their CD release entitled “Get Right or Get Left.”

          The lyrics alone are worth the price of this recording.  But when you add the group’s over-the-top, off-key singing to songs such as “If Your Hair’s Too Long There’s Sin in Your Heart”... “If John the Baptist Used the King James Version (It’s Good Enough for Me)”...and “Heaven Yes, Hell No,” then you’ve got a musical collection of truly priceless value.

          But this spoof of bad gospel music is much more than just a comedy concert.  In reality, it’s a fast-paced, two-act theatrical production featuring fictional ads for various Box Springs businesses who also serve as valued hometown sponsors of the Glory Bugles current tour.  A few of these sponsors include...

          Box Springs Biblical Barbers: “Where Faith and Follicles Meet Fashion” (no long-haired cuts allowed here).

          Nervous Eddie’s Tattoo Parlor (“Biblically-Themed Tattoos While you Wait”).

          Epaphrodite’s Nighties (“Firm Foundations for Goddesses of All Sizes”).

          The King Jimmy Bible Bookstore (“All King James, All the Time.”)

          And the aforementioned Imagone Drive-Through Storefront Funeral Parlor, where you can view the remains of the dearly departed without ever leaving the confines your car.

          Think “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Greater Tuna,” and “This is Spinal Tap” with a gospel theme,  and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the Glory Bugles are all about.

          Launched in the 1980s as a cameo sketch in the comedy group Ariel, The Glory Bugles have spent 20-odd years winking an irreverent eye at self-righteousness and bad theology as only those who know it first-hand can.

          Wayne Gurley,  who founded the group along with Keen and Wayne’s wife, Nan, says that the Glory Bugles were inspired by the influence of small town, southern America, “where you knew what was going on by listening to the radio for the hog report, the hospital and funeral reports, and the weekly specials at the Piggly Wiggly,” he says.  “There’s such joy and simplicity in small town life, especially when you toss in all the legalism that exists in small town church life, it’s just packed with humor.”

          The Glory Bugles take a good-hearted poke at legalism and ‘holier than thou-ism’ of every stripe.  “There’s a very fine line between ‘laughing at’ and ‘laughing with,’” admits Grammy Award winning songwriter/producer/actor and veteran Screen Actors Guild (TN) Nashville President Stevan Pippin. “The message here is religious at its core, but the characters are so misguided and downright goofy, the jokes are always at their expense, not at the expense of the truth.  Still, we know sometimes our toes are right on the line.”

          The Glory Bugles write almost all of their own material, taking inspiration from real people, small-town folklore and church marquees all over the country, where the truth is so much more fun than fiction could ever be.

          Solo artist/songwriter/author and former member of Grammy winning Christian group “First Call,” Bonnie Keen, says her character, Beulah Byrd,

“is convinced that beauty can set a woman free, so she always looks her best, and yet she’s always on the verge of a crying jag.  She has visions of grandeur, is convinced of her talent, but she’s torn between her aspirations and her reality. That’s why she does the splits a lot. It’s symbolic. She’s split in two.”

          Steve Pippin’s “Dr. Harley E. Never,” is Box Springs’ only certified swinologist. “Harley is a composite character, based on a myriad of cracker barrel philosophers, colorful country characters and townsfolk that my dad used to run into on his adventures as a Colonial Bread delivery man,” Pippin says. “A life-long bachelor, he’s the local pig whisperer, with a degree in animal psychology, with multiple ‘sheepskins’ from Box Springs University.”

          For Nan Gurley, an accomplished theatrical, film and TV actor/singer/ songwriter, Queenie Delphine represents the best and worst of the independent, self-assured woman.  As the director of Box Springs Fine Arts Center, Queenie

is responsible for the cultural soul of Box Springs, and she takes that role very seriously,” Nan says.

          “From ‘Taps and Tutus’ to modern jazz, interpretive dance, elocution and manners, she makes it her business to keep the fine arts away from those who might ruin them,” Nan continues.  “She is the truth-snatcher, the care-frontation expert, the posterchild for legalism. Always rigid, always right, and always proper.”

          Not unlike the thousands of American Idol wannabes in ‘real life,’ the fictional Glory Bugles are desperate to break out of their mundane lives and make the big time.  So they work hard at their day jobs and book their gigs where they can, determined to showcase their many, if ill-tuned, talents.

          Farley T. Byrd, Wayne Gurley’s character, considers himself the visionary behind The Glory Bugles.  “Farley has visions of grandeur,” says Wayne.  “He’s trapped in a dead-end job at the ammonia plant, and all he’s ever wanted to do was sing gospel music, so he founded the Bugles and pushes them out on the road whenever he can, performing for little pay but lots of glory.”

          The Glory Bugles’ eclectic stage production features a “virtual set” of digital images projected onto a screen behind the group as it performs.  These images are appropriate to whatever song or theatrical piece they may be sending up at the time.  A couple of hilarious videos at the beginning of the show also help set the comedic tone for the entire the program.

          It should be made clear that this show pokes fun at bad theology and the foibles of believers, but never God Himself.  Each of the actors are committed Christians and have no desire to trash the Creator of the Universe.

          “Really, what we’re spoofing is bad theology, not Christianity,” says Nan.  “The whole concept is to be able to laugh at ourselves, to see that God is so much bigger than all our pettiness, bickering, competition and pressure we bring to religious practice. And because God is so much bigger than most of us give Him credit for, we can be free from all that mess.“

          So if you enjoy leisure suits...beehive hairdos...trailer parks...and cowboy hats, or if you’ve ever chuckled at the wisdom of a church marquee, you’ll feel right at home with the Glory Bugles.