I met The Outlaw Cowboys at their semi-stomping grounds, the Rock-n-Horse Saloon, for an evening performance. The guys definitely gave cowboys a good name, both in looks and in stamina, providing line dancers, thrill-seekers and wallflowers a taste of some rocking country. Their sound is collected and well rehearsed, and their show is great entertainment. These guys are good.Del Bradley is the leading man. He, along with current bandmate Mike Sumwalt, had been involved in the creation of another local group, Southern Overdrive. Bradley also played with local act, BootLeg. Bradley and Steve Jones started The Outlaw Cowboys in March 2008 to “get away from the heavy playing schedule.”
Bradley has some Nashville ties in his storied past and has come “dangerously close” to signing with major labels there. He also headlined a major venue in Branson for four seasons, but, as he puts it, “I realize a resumé like that and a buck 25 will get you a 20-ounce cold drink if you don’t stay on top of your game.”
Bradley is both frontman and rhythm guitarist for the foursome. It’s safe to say he’s also the go-to guy for marketing, scheduling and other needs, although the Cowboys do claim to have a “band mother,” who is rumored to be the force behind the music.
The guys claim Sumwalt is the “monster guitarist” who brings incredible talent to the group. Fans seem to concur. Sumwalt has written all of the group’s original songs to date and has a home studio where the band can record their originals at little cost. Sumwalt auditioned for The Outlaw Cowboys after driving virtually cross country on very little sleep. Still, he somehow managed to memorize the entire setlist for the occasion, and the Cowboys were duly impressed. In addition to serving as lead guitarist and songwriter, Sumwalt does some lead and backup vocals. His son, Tyler, is the bass player in local metal group Zephaniah.
Jones, ever the “Southern gentleman,” is on the bass guitar. He’s played for gospel, bluegrass and classic rock bands, and he’s “the calming glue that binds all the mavericks together.” Somebody’s got to do it.
Since forming the group with Bradley, Jones has been instrumental in the Cowboys’ success. A West Virginia native, he also plays the jaw harp, a rare talent. “It’s hard to play the jaw harp in a loud country show,” he said. “It just doesn’t get heard.” Maybe I should’ve requested a solo.
The fourth member is drummer John Edwards, a mellow guy who’s easily approachable with his carefree sense of humor. He’s “a rocker, and proud of it, who just happened to be raised by country folks.” The group likens his drumming talent to “thunder and lightning” with his twirling and throwing of sticks while extracting jet fighter-like rumbling from his instrument. Edwards is a rock/metal/hair band veteran who just can’t seem to stay out of the country cookie jar.
The band members have an alliance that’s unusual in the star-laden music industry. They thwarted trouble by signing an agreement which outlines their commitment to the group and the expectations for membership. It has served them well. There was no struggle for ownership of anything when I spoke to them, although they all seem to have very different personalities.
“It’s a blessing that we’re all from a different universe,” Edwards said.
As for music, The Outlaw Cowboys are constantly working on their Top 40 country list.
“We’re generally ruled by what happens on the dance floor,” Bradley said. “We want to give line dancers a great time, and we want the hip-hop crowd to get into it. We must have scrapped 20 some songs that just don’t work on the dance floor, even though they’re big hits on the national scene.”
“A lot of places love to hear Johnny Cash,” Sumwalt added. “We do take requests. We’ll try anything once or twice. You almost have to.”
Edwards likes Hank Jr, Sumwalt likes Montgomery Gentry and Jones likes Alabama, but regardless of their separate allegiances they play every song in each set as if they loved them.
“‘Good Time’ is one song that really appeals to everybody, the line dancers and the groovers,” Bradley said. (This ought to make all the Alan Jackson fans out there exceedingly happy.)
All the Cowboys contribute the band’s original tunes. Originals have not been their sole focus of late, but the guys want to cut some tracks soon and hope to have an album put together by August. They all agree that Sumwalt is the man to go to for an original song idea, but Bradley acknowledged that “by the time everybody doctors it up, it’ll be done.” They played an original for the first time the night I saw them, and if I hadn’t known better I’d have thought it was a Top 40 hit.
While they enjoy cooking up new work, the Cowboys are mostly out to have a good time.
“We’re too old to be celebrities,” Bradley pointed out. “We aren’t going down to Nashville to spend tons of money putting together an album so that we can claim to be a ‘Nashville recording act.’ We just take pride in the fact that we are asked to come back to the places we play and that we’ve never been told we’re fired. Clubs love to have us on a regular basis, and we enjoy that success.”
The group is a staple in some of the region’s best country venues, including Cowboy Up in Mendon, Michigan; the Wild Bull in Kalamazoo; and, of course, the Rock-n-Horse, The Rusty Spur and others. They opened for David Allen Coe at Piere’s in 2008, and they enjoyed playing 8 Seconds in Indianapolis where they had dressing rooms and were treated like celebrities. They’d like to start playing in the region’s casinos and other large venues. The Kosciusko County Fair will host them on July 8. You just can’t be in the area and miss these guys live. These cowboys are the real deal.
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