The Chillbillies are making a change in our community, both on the stage and within their day jobs
The Chillbillies’ history dates back to the 1980s. At a concert for a gospel group in 1988 that year, founding member George Massengill introduced himself to the band and shared his story, telling them that if they ever needed a piano player, he’d be interested. They hired him that night. “That’s how I met Lewell Mollen,” George says.
Lewell played guitar for the band. Together, he and George cut some gospel albums, bringing on Don Taylor, an old friend of George’s, to join with his sax. Over time, by way of simple connections, other members of the group would emerge. And after a Friday night in 1988, playing in the back at Litton’s, this group of musicians decided to make it official.
The Chillbillies’ early beginnings were rooted in gospel, but over time they have come to be known for their classic rock vibes. And as the band has grown, so too has their reach across the community. But not just on the stage.
These musicians are anything but one-dimensional. George, on keyboard and vocals, is a drug and alcohol counselor. Tim Irwin, on guitar and vocals, is a well-known former UT footballer who later went on to play in the NFL. Today he is a sitting juvenile court judge. On drums many nights is Teddy Phillips, who also happens to be the CEO of Phillips & Jordan. Don, who brought flute, sax, and vocals to the Chillbillies, worked for the FBI for a while and spent time as a prison guard at Brushy Mountain (not to mention his time playing with Lynard Skynard). Add in second drummer Adam Helton, Larry Patton (who owns a music studio in Cookeville) and Kevin Keighley on bass, and Lewell (a boat builder) on guitar, and you have yourself the dynamic Chillbillies of today. They do it for the music.
“We all have these jobs, but at the end of the day, we’re musicians,” George says. “I think God ordains you to do a lot of things, which is mostly to be good and…help other people, but I think if God puts being a musician in you, you’re going to be a musician and if you’re not a musician, you’re going to be miserable. So we play and we have a good time and people have a good time, and that’s why we do what we do.
“As long as they love it, we’re going to keep playing it.”