By Kelly Baughman
With 35 consecutive years of playing music for a living and a resume that reads more like a “who’s who” in Nashville, Preston Stanfill has drummed his way into the hearts of many on the Gulf Coast.
Born in Caruthersville, Missouri, Stanfill joined the school band at the tender age of 10 while in the 5th grade. From there, he continued to play percussion and joined the Marching Band at Murray State University in Kentucky as part of the snare line. Obtaining a degree in TV Production and Marketing, after graduation, Stanfill knew he was at a fork in the road.
“I knew I had a choice to make about my future. Music was in my blood, so I knew I couldn’t leave it behind,” Stanfill said. He moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where he made his living cutting his teeth in smoky bars and American Legions. For ten years, Stanfill said he learned the ropes and became somewhat of a master at finding musicians that were the right fit to form a band. In doing so, he said he found a way to make a living in an industry that can sometimes be cruel.
As time went on, Stanfill began to long for something more. “I think every musician dreams of making it big. I personally had dreams of living life on a tour bus while seeing the world,” he said. In 1994, thanks to his friend and fellow musician, Scott Coney, Stanfill got the chance to chase his dreams.
“Scott called me and asked if I wanted to audition for a spot in Chely Wright’s band, so I went up to Nashville, played for her, and the next thing I knew I was sitting behind my kit on the stage at the Grand Old Opry,” Stanfill recalled. “It all happened so fast.”
As the drummer for Chely Wright, who scored major country hits with her songs ‘Single White Female’ and ‘Shut Up and Drive’ in the late 90’s, Stanfill toured the world and played the Grand Old Opry stage a whopping 75 times. “I remember looking up to the ceiling of the Ryman and saying, well if you want to take me now I’m good with that. I was living my dream. I could’ve gone happy in that moment,” Stanfill said jokingly.
As a staple member of Wright’s band, Stanfill was tasked with recruiting others to join her on stage. Stanfill rounded up musicians Jay Demarcus and Joe Don Rooney, to join the band. When Gary LeVox came into the picture, the foursome just one year later became the pop-country giant, Rascal Flatts.
“In my years with Chely I had been able to achieve so many dreams. Playing with Loretta Lynn, Richard Marx, Trace Adkins, Toby Keith….one dream after another came true with her. I felt a loyalty there, and just couldn’t leave her to pursue the other band. It didn’t feel right,” Stanfill said. And with that, he stayed with Wright until her exit from Nashville, although he was featured in the “Rascal Flatts Backstory” which can be viewed on YouTube.
Not knowing what his next move would be, Stanfill decided to head to the Gulf Coast to be near his sister, Krystal Pollard, in Spanish Fort. “I had been to the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival before with Bo Roberts, so I knew the area a little and knew it was a haven for musicians,” Stanfill said.
In no time at all, Stanfill was welcomed with open arms into a music community full of legendary songwriters and unforgettable performers. Stanfill teamed up with Chris Newbury as part of the Newbury Syndicate, started a trio project called JoJo Pres with Jonathan Newton and Derek Jones, and stars as one of the “Sexual Biscuits” behind everyone’s favorite front man, Jack Robertson, aka Big Earl.
“Jack has been a pivotal part of my transition to music down here. I can’t say enough about him as a person both on stage and off. He is an incredible person, and people absolutely love him. I’ve played in some of the most prestigious places in the world, and I’m here to tell you….nothing compares to the Flora-Bama. The appreciation you receive as a musician there is second to none, and playing behind Jack who is the best in the biz when it comes to entertaining a crowd, the satisfaction is overwhelming,” Stanfill said.
An avid golfer with two hole in ones under his belt and a fantastic bowler having had a perfect 300 game, Preston Stanfill pretty much conquers anything he sets his mind to. With a reputation of loyalty in a world where being an interchangeable cog is normal, Stanfill said that he’s learned that the true role of any musician is to do your job well to make others shine.
“I have spent my life honing my craft, and I think I’m actually better now than I was when I was playing the Opry. The cameras and the pressure of it all took my mind off of what was really important. Down here, I can focus and really be the best version of myself. I think that’s what’s kept me employed all these years,” he said.
When asked what’s next for Stanfill, he said he just hopes the gigs keep coming. “My biggest fear is my final gig….when the music stops for good. I appreciate each time I’m on stage and treat it like it could be my last. No one knows how much time we have left, so I do my best to make sure I live my life and play each gig to the best of my abilities.”
With so much love and commitment for the music and the people lucky enough to share the stage with him, Stanfill isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “You could pay me any amount of money to play somewhere else, but I’d still prefer to be right here on the Gulf Coast, especially at the Flora-Bama. It’s a kind of magic every musician hopes to find, and I’m blessed to call it home.”
Catch Stanfill along with Big Earl and the Sexual Biscuits for their last shows of the year next Friday and Saturday night, November 23rd and 24th, at the Flora-Bama Lounge from 5 to 9 pm. Then again on New Year’s Eve as they ring in the New Year as only they can do.