Lois Deer (center) with The Brothers & Co. members Gary Deer Jr., Gery Deer, and husband Gary Deer Sr. at the Jamestown Opera House in 2010
JAMESTOWN, OH – On a cold, winter night, a couple of weeks after a family Christmas party in 1994, something historic took place. William Sutton, his brother Gary “Tuff” Sutton, Sr., and their nephews, Gery Deer and Gary Deer, Jr., did something they’d never done before. They all met up on a Friday night at the Deer family farm in Jamestown, Ohio and collected their musical talents into what would become a lifelong undertaking. While you may never have heard of “The Brothers & Co. Entertainers,” their history is one of a unique brotherhood derived from a family whose musical talent goes back several generations.
While William and Tuff had played together many times over the years, the Deer brothers had never made the attempt. Tuff had helped Gery develop his natural piano skills and Gary Jr. hadn’t played his drums much after graduating high school in Fairborn in the early 1970s. But when they sat down, something really amazing happened, they just “worked.”
Tuff took on the lead and rhythm guitar duties. William was initially the group’s bass player, but picked up his dusty bow and took over the fiddle spot once family friend Jess W. Young, of Fairborn, signed on, and then there were five.
Originally called simply, “The Brothers,” the band went through a lot of changes in its first year or two, adding and subtracting musicians, but always maintaining the two sets of brothers as the foundation. By 1996, a decision was made to change the group’s name, adding, “& Co.” (and company), allowing them to add and subtract whomever they wanted without much of a branding problem, so long as Gery and Gary Jr. at least remained. Somewhere along the way, Gery and Gary Jr. decided that the group was made up more of “entertainers” than trained musicians, so that was tagged onto the name too – “The Brothers & Co. Entertainers.”
By 1996, Ed Jones had joined up on banjo and acoustic guitar. A cousin to the Deer brothers and another nephew of the Suttons, he also had never played together with his family before in this way. Sadly, the family lost Uncle Tuff Sutton to cancer in 2005, and William stayed with the group only a short time after and also passed away a few years later. Jess Young also retired from the group due to health reasons and passed away shortly after.
“None of who we are now would have happened without each of them,” Gery remembers of his family members who have passed on, including his mother, Lois, who died in 2011 after suffering for several years from Alzheimer’s disease. “We are who we are because of them and my mother was, essentially, the anchor. It was because of her that my brother and I are here and that the others came together with us. We couldn’t have done this without them.” But the changes weren’t over yet.
From inception until about 2004, the boys had maintained an instrumental bluegrass persona. But one Saturday night, shortly after a family friend, Jim Karns of Fairborn, joined the group, something odd happened. As Gery puts it, “We opened our mouths and a terrible, awful, nails on the chalkboard noise hit the air, as if four birds had flown headlong into a window while screeching at the top of their lungs.”
The Brothers & Co Variety Show will perform a 45 minute set at the Schuster December 4. Photo by Jen Copas
In truth, the experiment had landed them in uncharted waters. Although Ed had done some singing, and Jim, as the most experienced, having performed in theater productions while in school at Kettering Fairmont, Gery and Gary Jr. had virtually no singing experience. But there were some golden nuggets amidst the muddy waters of their four-part vocalization.
Working hard to find their respective parts, eventually everything finally fell into place and they had become singers as well as naturally talented musicians. But with change comes growing pains.
An expanded repertoire and wider variety of music required instrument and key changes and since they guys play their own instruments, staging issues caused shows to come to a dead crawl. But a solution for that problem quickly presented itself, and, as is the norm with this group, Mother Necessity birthed yet another Brothers & Co. innovation – one they like to call, “comagic.”
In addition to having a great set of bass singing pipes, Jim Karns is also an award-winning, classical stage magician. In addition, Gery was an accomplished stage bullwhip artist, having performed all over the country and on national television shows like America’s Got Talent and The Bonnie Hunt Show. He and Gery had met while working for an engineering center in Dayton and found they had many common interests, the least of which was a somewhat Vaudevillian sense of humor, one that fit in perfectly with an almost Grand Ole Opry styled stage show.
The Brothers & Co. Bus
The new family-friendly routines, originally designed to give time for stage and instrument changes, soon added a whole new dimension to the show. It wasn’t long until “The Brothers & Co. Entertainers” became, “The Brothers & Co. Music and Variety Show.”
After two decades of constant evolution, weekly rehearsals in a specially built room at the Deer family farm, and shows that spanned everything from coffee shops to casinos, The Brothers & Co. have more to offer than just four guys standing around singing. They are a full, family-friendly, stage variety show that can perform virtually anywhere. Their signature black, western outfits designed by Gary, Jr. and Gery’s mother, Lois, are a tribute to their family’s country music heritage.
The group has performed at the Schuster Performing Arts Center, the Victoria Theatre and the casino resorts of French Lick, Indiana, but their home is in Jamestown, and that’s where they want this 20th anniversary to tour to start. Gary Deer, Jr. is the percussionist of the group and sees to most of their technical requirements. “Mostly, we want to entertain people and give them a show like most haven’t seen since the 60’s,” he says.
“We put a modern spin on an old kind of entertainment that’s nostalgic and originally presented all at the same time,” says Jim Karns. “If you’ve never seen a live variety show, this is something the whole family will really enjoy.” To celebrate their 20th anniversary, The Brothers & Co. will present a pre-holiday performance beginning at 7PM, Saturday, November 22nd at the Jamestown Opera House, 19 N. Limestone St., Jamestown, Oh 45335, to benefit the Jamestown Area Historical Society.
The Brothers & Co. with Gary Deer Sr. and their late mother Lois Deer at the Wheeling Jamboree Radio Show, 2010
Gery says the show has something for everyone, and it comes from a place of deep meaning for the family. “This show is hard work, just like anything else of value. It honors our mother’s memory, it gives testimony to the fact that a family can do something together besides watch TV or play a video game. There is a family commitment to The Brothers & Co. that gives other families the chance to bring the kids and enjoy genuine, dare I say it, ‘wholesome’ entertainment that’s just plain fun. It almost doesn’t exist anymore and we rarely get a chance to show it here at home.”
Tickets at the door are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets are available at the door the night of the show and for presale at Ted’s Barber Shop, 3 W. Washington St. in Jamestown. Sponsorships are also still available for businesses in the area starting at $100. Proceeds from this performance benefit the Jamestown Area Historical Society. More information is available from The Brothers & Co. website, thebrothersandcompany.com, and from their Facebook page. Watch for The Brothers & Co on the WDTN-TV2 program, Living Dayton, 12 noon, Tuesday November 18.