Band pursuing its longest shot 'Branded' opens country's hot acts NORTHWEST Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown

Mary Clum and Steve Boose used an updated version of "The Farmer in the Dell" to get musicians into their country-western band.

The lead singer took a drummer, the lead guitarist took another guitar player, and so on until their band, Branded, brought in enough new members and created a sound that left no one standing alone.


"We're original," said Mary Clum, of New Windsor, who sings lead and plays mandolin and manages the band. "and we've got talent."

And talent is obviously important to Ms. Clum, because she and Mr. Boose, the band's lead guitarists, hand picked most of the members.


"David Staccone is the only original band member. He was there when I was brought in," said Ms. Clum.

She began working with the band when founder Jack Kraemer was still in Maryland. He has since moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career.

"I brought in the drummer, who I'd heard before, and Steve and I brought in Gary [Naill, rhythm guitar] when Jack left," she said.

Steel guitarist, fiddler, and Dobro steel guitar player Bill Erb came into the fold last spring when Mr. Boose was undergoing a fourth kidney transplant and was unable to play in a competition.

"Steve's the best, and when he went into the hospital, it was tough to find someone to with the talent to do the job," said Ms. Clum, who sells houses for the Long & Foster real estate firm when she isn't doing "band things."

"We were lucky to find Bill and to keep him when Steve came back," she said.

With Mr. Boose's return in late August, the gang is all here -- including drummer Roger Starliper, and guitarists Gary Wilson and Dale Hooper. Each of the band members plays multiple instruments and has individual aspirations, and they share a common love for music that makes them play powerfully as a group.

"Branded has all top-notch musicians," said Mr. Naill, a Union Bridge resident who works as a manufacturing engineer for Rotorex Corp. "I believe it is one of the best and most popular bands in the area."


Although most of the band's members are from the area, Branded's popularity extends beyond the county. The eight-member group has opened for some of country's hottest acts, such as Top Female artist Trisha Yearwood and Cissie Lynn, daughter of country legend Loretta Lynn.

Among them they also have worked with Ronnie Milsap, Tammy Wynette and T. G. Shepard.

Branded won the division championship last month at the True Value/GMC Truck Country Showdown against bands from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.

When Branded played at the northwest regional competition in Wheeling, W.Va. last Saturday, with country great Waylon Jennings as host, they were among 36 bands in the country to make it to that level.

"A band from Michigan won for our region, but the exposure was great," said Ms. Clum, whose husband Ken, an electrician, is the group's sound technician. "Even Waylon Jennings told us that the bands assembled that day were some of the best acts he's ever heard."

But what makes Branded different from the other acts trying to make it big in one of music's hottest trends?


Ms. Clum said its male and female lead singers help make the group a novelty in the country music business.

"Most acts just have one or the other," she said. "It helps when people don't have to listen to the same voice all night."

She also said Branded must cater to the growing country music population.

"We have to be versatile," she said. "People are turning to country music because they can understand the words, sing along.

"It's no longer about 'my dog left me, my wife left me, my truck left me,' " she said. "Country has stepped into serious issues."

Although the band's success was not as easily found -- Mr. Kraemer left it minus its leader and with no engagements -- Ms. Clum's persistence paid off. Branded became a major name and has played local clubs as well as gigs in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.


The band performs tonight at Fager's Island Restaurant in Ocean City, and tomorrow and Saturday at the Westminster Moose Lodge.

Ms. Clum expects Branded to do some studio work within the next month.

"Mary has to be given credit for much of our success," Mr. Naill said. "We are all just musicians, but she takes care of business things. She's brought this band a long way."

For now, they both benefit from a popular and talented band, which Ms. Clum says is more important, at present, than stardom.

"I know our group is good, but you have to remember that there is always someone out there more talented, more attractive, a better musician than you," Ms. Clum said.

"Stardom is a long shot, but it is not impossible, nor is it our immediate goal. All we can do is get out there and do what we do best."