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  • Writer's pictureDavid Ullman

FAMILY ALBUM Backstory Part 1: The Bushmen

Updated: Feb 19

Over the last 50 years, my dad, Jim, his younger brother Jack, myself, and my younger brother Brian have all introduced and respectively reintroduced music into each other's lives at key moments when we needed it most. The Ullman Boys' Family Album is the first recorded collection of songs created by these two generations of Ullman Brothers.

Born to deaf parents, my dad and his three siblings grew up in a house without music. Seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show in 1964 changed all that. Dad and Jack crafted cardboard band instruments and distributed the roles of John, Paul, George, and Ringo among themselves and a couple of other friends and began playing along to the fab four's records as a sort of lip-sync tribute group.

Before long, they graduated from cardboard cutouts to the real deal. While brothers Duane and Gregg Allman were getting together with their pals in Jacksonville, Florida to form the iconic Allman Brothers Band in the mid-late 60s, Jim and Jack Ullman were recruiting their buddies to become The Bushmen in Rittman, Ohio.

The Bushmen (Left to right: Larry Griffin, Ronnie Osburn, Jim Ullman, Jack Ullman - with Gary Thompson, keyboard)

They covered the popular songs of the day, beginning with an impromptu performance of "Last Kiss" by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers at a street corner sock hop.

This detail is one of many surprising parallels in the paths of us four Ullman Boys I learned of during the five-plus-hour interview I conducted with them for this piece. Because of Pearl Jam's chart-topping cover of "Last Kiss" more than three decades later, I myself sang that same 1960s song in that same town square. You can actually see that moment about 53 minutes into a documentary I made called Steve: Finding Rhythm.

Here's what Uncle Jack remembered about The Bushmen's first gig...

JACK: I'd never played a set of drums in my life. [The previous band's drummer] left his drum kit for me up on the stage. We just got up on stage and started playing. I don't know how we survived the night, but it was amazing. And we became a mainstay in Rittman because of that.

Throughout their teens, The Bushmen (or sometimes "Bushman") played gigs at city parks, battle of the bands competitions, homecoming dances, the local swimming pool, and lunchtime performances in the high school gymnasium. My dad sang lead vocals and played guitar, Uncle Jack the drums, and their pals Ronnie and Larry bass and lead guitar.

JACK: Anything that was playing on the radio, we would try.

JIM: I'd learn the chords, learn the songs, teach it to the guys, and we played those songs. In the mix the whole time were the Beatles. And [eventually, we] moved into Motown. We wanted to play Four Tops and Temptations. The last few times we were playing as a band, we were playing Motown.

The Bushmen (Left to right: Jim Ullman, Jack Ullman, Bill Lawhorn, Larry Griffin)

The Bushmen disbanded after graduation. Dad went to college at Ashland University on a baseball scholarship and later got his degree from Bible College to become a church pastor. Uncle Jack enlisted in The Air Force, where he also played baseball in the European League. When he wasn't playing center field for the Ramstein Rams, Jack was playing protest songs by Country Joe and The Fish; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Joan Baez in the airmen's clubs. He was hoping to get together a new group of musicians to play with him in Germany. When that didn't work out, Jack mailed the 12-string guitar he bought there to his brother Jimmy back in the States. JIM: I used it to lead the church in worship. Normally, they always wanted a pastor's wife to play piano, [but my wife had] already spent 12 hours [a day] working with kids in public school. So I didn't want that. I didn't have any real guitar at the time, so when I got that 12 string, I put that thing to work. I wore that thing out. Then I got an Ovation acoustic-electric and joined another church organization which specialized in worship through acoustic guitar. There'd be about four of us with acoustic guitars, playing songs, leading congregations in worship. I did worship seminars and things probably for six or seven years after that.


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