Remembering “Lonesome” Lester Armistead (October 25, 1942 – May 2, 2014) was a joyful onstage presence who blew the jug, played banjo and hollered tenor vocals as a founding member of The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Mr. Armistead was steeped in old-time country music. His father co-owned a bait store with Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff’s fiddle player, Howdy Forrester, and Acuff’s Dobro player, Bashful Brother Oswald, taught him to sing. With the Jug Band, Mr. Armistead buzzed his lips just above the mouth of a vintage jug that Oswald played on the Opry with Acuff in the 1930s. “Lester, how’s your jug?” Marty Stuart would often ask Mr. Armistead on episodes of RFD-TV’s “The Marty Stuart Show.” Mr. Armistead would reply, “’Bout half.’”
A retired printer, Mr. Armistead lived on a farm north of Nashville. His homestead included a converted store called “Lonesome Lester’s Loafin’ Lounge,” where the Jug Band practiced. The Lounge featured a large picture of Acuff, and the band sought to recreate the clattering spirit of southern roots music made in the days before electric guitars and music videos.
With the jug band, Armistead propelled both the comedy and the old-time music with his percussive jug blowing. His powerful tenor singing recalled the late great Bashful Brother Oswald, (comedian and Roy Acuff’s longtime dobro player), from whom Lester learned to sing. Lester himself was an accomplished musician. The band has performed worldwide including performances on the Grand Ole Opry and as regular guests on the Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, playing boisterous songs like “Too Old to Cut the Mustard,” “What a Waste of Good Corn Liquor” and “Slide Them Jugs Down the Mountain.”