Countryfied opens for Terri Clark Saturday night during the Crook County Fair

LON AUSTIN - Countryfied celebrates 30 years as a touring band this year. The above photo is from their performance during the Lazy Rockin' Stirrup Ranch Country Fest in Paulina earlier this summer. Pictured left to right, Yancey Fall, John Hite, Mark Mobley, Ron Mobley and Tim Fenderson.

Countryfied has a pretty good gig.

The band members say music is their passion, their outlet and their recreation.

"Some people have a boat and go to the river every weekend, but we go entertain and make people smile all across the country," says drummer Ron Mobley. "It's a pretty good gig, a pretty good hobby. We've made a lot of people smile and dance."

As Countryfied celebrates 30 years as the hometown band, they will bring their high energy, country and rock music to the Crook County Fair for three weekend shows and will open for Terri Clark.

Countryfied debuts

When brothers Mark and Ron Mobley started singing with their family band, The Sundowners, as kids, they had no idea where it would lead.

They lived on a ranch outside of Shaniko and played in grange halls and Elks Clubs in little towns like The Dalles, Antelope, Clarno, Maupin, Ashwood and Terrebonne.

By 1987, the brothers and a friend, Charlie Walker, had loosely formed a variety hometown band.

"We got started right in Prineville. Our first job ever was at the Elks Club in Prineville," Mark recalls of those early days. "We were just sitting around at the Lakeside Lounge outside Ochoco Reservoir, trying to come up with a name, and I think Ron came up with Countryfied."

They weren't too sure they liked the name but decided to use it for that night.

But, the name stuck.

"We just started using it," recalls Mark, who is now 55. "We booked ourselves every weekend for about three years in a row at the very start. We didn't have one weekend off. It was quite a start. It was a running start."

John Hite, of Prineville, started playing keyboards for the band off and on in 1988. A couple years later, he became a fulltime addition.

"We've been billed as a lot of things — we've been billed as a comedy act, we've been billed as country, rock." Hite says.

Ron, who has a son and a daughter, lived in Bend until 1994 when he moved back to the ranch near Shankio. Mark lived in Powell Butte, where he and his wife, Susan, raised their two boys, until joining Ron back at the Mobley Ranch.

"I thought the band was going to break up when I decided to move back to the ranch," Ron says. "We couldn't practice very much anymore, but everybody adjusted their schedules and slowed down a little bit and made it all work."

By 1999, Walker had moved on, and although membership has changed a bit over the decades, these days, Mark is the lead singer and also plays guitar. Ron is the drummer, Hite is on the keyboards, Yancey Fall is on the bass guitar, and Tim Fenderson is also on guitar.

Shannon Bex also joins the guys when she can. Her group, Danity Kane, sold a couple million records in the Hip Hop market, and she was on MTV's Making the Band for five years.

"What's kind of cool for us now, too, is the next generation is coming along," Hite says.

Ron's daughter, Karissa Gorham, sings with them occasionally, and Hite's son, Chris, plays drums and fills in once in a while for Ron.

"We've actually gone to another level," Hite says. "Thirty years later, the tradition lives on."

Staying regional

At one point in their music careers, they were trying to go big time but decided it wasn't for them.

"We had a run of about five years where that's all we did exclusively was music, and we were getting booked out of Nashville, and we were doing shows with a lot of major artists at that time," Hite recalls. "We started watching our kids grow in spurts and started missing stuff and decided that maybe we should enjoy our kids instead."

Hite, who is 54, and his wife, Terri, have four boys, ranging in age from 33 to 25. He works as a real estate broker in Prineville.

"We were all pretty young and started having kids, so we decided not to go to Nashville to try to pursue the national record label," Ron says. "We decided to stay local so we could raise our families in Central Oregon."

Celebrating 30 years

How have they stayed in the music biz for 30 years?

"We've always treated it as a business, and we love to entertain, and we love people. That's basically what's kept it together," Hite said. "We're friends on and off the stage, and I'm pretty close to those guys — they're like my brothers, too, because we've spent so much time together over the years."

Mark says he thinks it's their attitude that has kept them going for three decades.

"We're always upbeat and happy backstage and on stage. We're all good friends, and nobody has any real ego problems," Mark says. "We all enjoy it."

Ron adds that it's pretty unusual to have a band that stays together as partners, brothers and friends for 30 years.

"We went through the bar band stage, and we made the clean break from bar bands to corporate events and fairs and festivals instead of bars," he said, adding that they often worked in bars in Redmond, Bend and Prineville in those early days, then started playing Sunriver corporate events and county fairs in Oregon and Washington.

But a turning point came in 1989 when Mark, Hite and Ron went to a seminar called Making Money Making Music.

"The three of us formed a business plan and marketed and really grew the band," Ron says. "That was really the turning point from being just a regular band to a regional act."

Right after that, they put out their first album, "Simple Pleasures."

They've released three more albums through the years: "Old Homestead," "Never Stop" and "It's Time 4 Fun." Their latest album features three new original tunes along with old favorites like "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Fly Away" and "Sing Me Back Home."

"We play a variety of music, and we probably know somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 or 600 songs," Hite says. "We just set out to have a good time and entertain people and make sure everybody leaves smiling."

They have around 30 or 40 original songs, and they play a combination of their own tunes and other artists' music.

"We do what the crowd wants," Hite says. "All of us have special songs that we do to get the crowd going — that's part of the deal. I sing 'You Shook Me All Night Long' by AC/DC, and that always seems to get the crowd going pretty good."

Ron sings "Sweet Home Alabama," and Mark has several that he does, too.

They rarely ever perform for a club, but instead prefer fairs, festivals, private events and opening slots.

They've opened for 40-plus big name performers such as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (twice), Diamond Rio several times, Merle Haggard, Don Williams, Sawyer Brown, Mark Chestnut and Joe Diffie. And this Saturday night, they'll add Terri Clark to the list.

"It's an honor to be able to do something like that," Hite said of opening for the country music star.

He says opening for big-name artists can be difficult because they're time compressed, but they're used to working under pressure.

"We're lucky that we've got to do as much as we've done," Hite says. "It's pretty incredible the people that we've got to meet just because of a little old band."

Crook County Fair

Countryfied will play at 8 Friday night at the Crook County Fair and will open for Terri Clark Saturday at 6:30 p.m. After her concert, they will again play on the fairground's main stage.

Fairgrounds Manager Casey Daly says most people don't realize that Countryfied provides all of the stage sound equipment for the local fair.

"When we have the little kids dance or anybody else performing on stage, we're using their equipment, plus their technician," Daly said. "I don't have to worry about it, which makes it very, very nice."

He says everybody loves Countryfied.

"In the community when they play, they always draw a big crowd, and the little kids especially love to stand out there and dance, and the whole band engages the community, which is nice," Daly said. "It's kind of our hometown band. We love them every year."

"I think people should come just because it's always just a good time, to put a smile on your face and a laugh in your voice and just have some fun for a few hours, forget all of your problems and your worries," Mark says. "We just like to do that — take people away from the ordinary, everyday life and have some fun."

The band is working on a fifth album but don't know yet when they will release it.

Aside from that, they're just happy to keep doing what they've been doing for 30 years.

"We're just going to keep on going until people stop hiring us, I guess," Hite laughed.

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