Four young northeastern Oklahoma men have found a niche performing live western swing music throughout the state and surrounding areas.
Known as the A Bar Bunkhouse Band, the group will entertain the audience during “A Celebration of Helping Others: Dancing with the Stars of Rogers County.”
Scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 9 at the Robson Performing Arts Center in Claremore, the lively music performed by A Bar Bunkhouse Band will have the audience wanting to jump up and dance to the classic western swing tunes. All four band members are accomplished fiddle players but each has his own way on the stage with Merrit Armitage playing the guitar and singing vocals. Brother Turner Armitage joins him in singing the rousing tunes made popular by bands like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Joining the two brothers on stage are cousin Landon Morgan, whose upright bass, and Jake Duncan, fiddle player, round out the musical group’s foot-stomping sound.
Although Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys have had the biggest influence on the band’s style, Merrit also cites Django Reinhardt, a pioneering European jazz guitarist and composer, as another strong impact on their style of music.
“Django’s music has been described as a gypsy style swing,” Merrit says. “We try to draw from the style of the Big Band era but we don’t have a full orchestra. We have what people around here call a ranch band, playing in a smaller setting. It’s feel good music,” he adds.
“We play a wide variety of songs, from show tunes that feature the fiddle to crowd pleasers like Folsom Prison Blues with a breakdown of the Orange Blossom Special,” he says. “We also play everything from Ida Red to House of the Rising Sun.”
Three of the band members-Merrit, Turner and Landon-took fiddle lessons from local teacher, Cindy Jenkins. The three crossed paths with Jake while performing with the group Oklahoma Stomp, a Western Swing youth group organized by Shelby Eicher in 2005. Eventually, the youth group, which had played as part of the “Music across America” celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., broke off into smaller bands.
Since forming A Bar Bunkhouse Band, the group has performed venues, including the Day of the National Cowboy, an annual event at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. “We have opened for Red Steagall and Don Edwards,” Merrit says. “The first year we performed we were on a smaller stage in a tent. But because the crowd we drew was so large, they bumped us up to a bigger stage the next year.”
The band has also played in Tulsa at the Cain’s Ballroom and opened for the Texas Playboys. “It’s neat to meet people you grew up listening to on records,” he adds.
Merrit credits his love for the Western Swing genre to his parents and grandparents. “It’s what I grew up listening to. I didn’t listen to the music that was popular with other kids my age when I was growing up.”
Although the band has released one album, “For the First Time,” that, according to Merrit, has done well, he does not aspire at this time to go bigger with the group. “I want to keep Western Swing alive for coming generations,” he says, “and to share our love of this music with others. We want to change people’s perception that Western Swing is dead.”
Playing one gig a month, the band also entertains at various private functions, banquets and dances. For more information about the concert, visit the band’s web site at www.abarbunkhouseband.com.