By Rich Brown
Globe Staff Writer
Little did Burney Johnson know when he learned vocal harmony from his dad that music was to play a big part in four generations of their family.
Johnson, 70, a native of the Oak Grove Community south of Joplin, recently reminisced about how he got a musical boost from his father (now deceased), went out on his own and passed on his knowledge to his children, who then passed it on to their children.
The bottom line of that heritage today underscores Johnson Family Bluegrass, a (believe it or not) free show featured every four weeks at the Spring Valley Music Theater near the Tipton Ford community.
"We are the granddaddy of all the musical things around here," said Johnson, who retired in 1999 from East Newton High School, where he taught Spanish and history for 32 years. "We're the graybeards."
Johnson, with his children, started the Tipton Ford performances in 1983.
"The kids were little bitty at the time," he said. "And today my kids play with their kids but with me, too."
Although vocal harmony still plays a huge part with the performing families, the many instruments used are a big plus.
Johnson, whose wife, Carol, runs the concession stand and up until about a year ago sang at the theater, taught their two daughters (Dee Lynn and Beth Ann) and two sons (Joe and Chris) how to play the instruments.
Even though Chris got out of music five years ago, the other three children have groups of their own.
"We have four different acts today," Johnson said. "And their groups go out and play on their own in the area. They have a lot of talent."
The show at the Spring Valley Music Theater, which usually runs from 7:30 to 10 p.m., routinely begins with the Burney Johnson clan, followed by the Now or Never Gang (Dee Lynn's family), The Harrall Family (Beth Ann's group) and Stephanie and Joe (Joe Johnson and his daughter).
The musical family of Dee Lynn, whose married name is Carneal, includes her husband, Rick, and daughters, Lacey, 15, Brianna, 13, and Leah, 12.
In addition to Beth Ann, the Harrall family includes husband, Joe, and children, Gary, 21, Kevin, 17, and Crystal, 15.
Burney Johnson said their show is a not-for-profit undertaking.
"We ask for donations for maintenance and upkeep and improvement of the building," he said.
Even more remarkable is that the families not only are the featured performers but, also, the caretakers of the property.
"We do all of it," he said. "We do the work and we make the money. But it is fun."
In addition, other groups outside the family also perform at the theater.
"Nobody gets paid but they are still eager to come," Johnson said. "It is kind of a theater setting. There is a curtain that draws and we can seat 120 people.
"Sometimes it is overrunning and you can't get in."
Johnson Family Bluegrass
Where: Spring Valley Music Theater, near Tipton Ford.
When: Every four weeks, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. Remaining 2006 schedule is May 6, June 3, July 1, July 29, Aug. 26, Sept. 23, Oct. 21, Nov. 18 and Dec. 16.
By Rich Brown