By BRENNA GRITEMAN
The honky-tonk stylings of East of Cheyenne are uniting classic country-Western music lovers of all ages — including those who are just discovering the genre.
The four-piece country band formed in 2011 and has built a steady following among people in their own late 60s to early 70s age group.
“Our crowd is an older crowd, which is just the way we like it,” says Tom Davis of Findlay, drummer, percussionist and band manager.
When booking shows, Davis tells venues East of Cheyenne’s fans are willing to travel, love to dance and won’t be starting any barroom fights. Then he warns, “They don’t drink much, though.”
“But they don’t not drink much,” quips Dan Long, bass guitar, keyboard, harmonica and six-string guitar player from Port Clinton.
As the band’s popularity has grown, so too has its reach.
“I never thought it would take off like it did,” says Perry Richendollar, lead singer and acoustic guitar player from North Baltimore. He hears regularly from millennials who say “I don’t like country music, but I like this,” often because it reminds them of the music they heard their parents and grandparents listening to while they were growing up.
The hint of bluegrass provided by steel guitar, lead guitar and banjo player Ed Byerly of North Baltimore only adds to the band’s appeal to the younger crowd.
“He plays the strings right off that thing,” Davis says of Byerly’s banjo prowess.
“And Dan, when he pulls out that keyboard, he gets that honky-tonk going,” Davis adds.
At their fans’ request, the band has released its first CD, a live album and DVD recorded in March at the Strand Theater in Fremont. The 16-song CD is made up of covers by singer/songwriters including Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Harlan Howard and Willie Nelson, although each band member writes original music and lyrics.
Davis explains country music got its start in the 1920s in rural southern America. This “hillbilly music,” as it was called, was a mixture of Appalachian folk songs and blues. About the same time, Western music was gaining popularity in cowboy country. In 1949, the record industry launched a marketing campaign to combine the two styles of music, and “country-Western” was born.
Over the years, the genre was shortened to “country” music, but East of Cheyenne keeps the classic country-Western sound of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s at its core. Inspired by Richendollar’s collection of 7,000-plus records, East of Cheyenne plays a style of country music popularized by artists like Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, Gene Watson and Lefty Frizzell.
“We didn’t want it to fade away into the sunset, so we started a band to keep it up,” Davis says.
The story starts in December 2010, when Davis played a jam session at a local veterans’ club. He started a jam of his own with legendary local “picker” Kenny Hough on lead guitar, and they decided if they were going to start a band, they needed to advertise for a lead singer.
“And Perry Richendollar showed up,” Davis says. “Once we heard him sing, we knew.”
Richendollar brought along Byerly and Long, and a five-piece band was formed. The band’s name is a tip of the cowboy hat to Hough, who had lived in Wyoming and talked incessantly about his love of the American West. Hough retired from the band at age 82.
“We were sorry to lose Kenny Hough. He was a local legend,” Davis says. “We never replaced him. We just made Ed do more work.”
“Gentle giant. That’s what I always called him,” Richendollar adds of the retired band member.
Each member of the band is a veteran musician, and both Long and Byerly have played with Opry stars on the big stage in Nashville, and in and around Ohio.
Byerly has opened for Porter Wagoner, Billy Ray Cyrus and John Michael Montgomery, and played the steel guitar for Jeannie Seely at the Grand Ole Opry. Byerly and Long opened for George Jones in Toledo not long before the star’s death; and have both been called upon numerous times to join Michael Twitty, son of Conway Twitty, on tour.
“He’ll call up and say he’s got some dates for us and off we go,” Byerly says of Twitty, explaining that Nashville stars rarely tour with their bands. Instead, they call on area musicians when playing fairs and festivals.
Under similar circumstances, Long has opened for the Oak Ridge Boys in Port Clinton.
Davis says the band rehearses original songs at his home studio, but when introducing covers, each member of the band downloads the song from iTunes and practices independently.
“And then we play it for the first time at the gig. With country music you can do that,” he says.
East of Cheyenne does, however, practice for their annual “Country Christmas” shows, which they perform throughout the month of December.
Upcoming concerts include 6 to 10 p.m. Friday at the North Baltimore American Legion; 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Kenton Eagles; and 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Sandusky County Fair (Log Cabin Stage) in Fremont. Additional dates are listed on the band’s Facebook page.
Copies of East of Cheyenne — Live at The Strand Theater can be purchased at any of the band’s concerts or by calling Davis at 419-423-4424 or Katie Richendollar at 419-257-2323.