GREENSBURG — Sometime in 1996, a local band calling itself “Southern Knights” decided on a name change.
Almost 20 years and more than 1,000 shows later, that band – Skeeter McGee – is still going strong. Granted, with the exception of one member – lead singer Rob Bruns – the members have changed and the musical style has evolved (the band started life “playing a country style of music”), but the group’s primary motivations remain unchanged: They play because they enjoy making music and because they like entertaining audiences.
Although they released their first studio album shortly after the 1996 name change, “Skeeter” didn’t settle on its current lineup until 2006. That’s the year they added current bassist and vocalist Rich Bryant.
Bryant and the other members of Skeeter recently corresponded with the Daily News to talk about the band’s McGee’s history, current lineup, original music, charity work, and musical influences and style.
In addition to Bruns (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Bryant (bass, backing vocals), the band’s current lineup also includes Roberto Barajas (lead guitar) and Bryan Messer (drums, backing vocals).
Barajas joined Skeeter McGee in 2004. Although he was born in Mexico, he stressed, “My musical taste was not.” The future Skeeter McGee lead guitarist first started playing music at age 19, and was heavily influenced by The Beatles.
In fact, he added, “I would not be playing today if it had not been for them.”
Barajas’ influences though, range quite a bit beyond The Beatles, he said. In citing the bands he listened to most frequently in developing his tastes as both music fan and music maker, Barajas named Jethro Tull, The Who, Yes, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
“I’ve been fortunate enough in my music career to not only play songs by these artists, but to have been introduced to many different types of music,” he said, mentioning Tex Mex, Brazilian Bossanova, 70’s Fusion and Country as examples.
Messer, who started playing drums in high school, joined Skeeter in 2003. He’s been playing in one band or another since he picked up a drumstick, he said. In addition to the drums, he has also learned to play guitar, bass guitar and keyboards.
Said Bryant, “Bryan also shares the bulk of Skeeter’s harmony vocals with Rob, and his expertise in audio and lighting has kept us sounding and looking professional for years.”
Original Skeeter member Bruns started out as the group’s drummer and lead vocalist, but, on the advice of the band’s producer, he came out from behind his percussion set and took center stage.
“I started playing at a very early age,” Bruns said. His first band, Unleashed, was made up of “schoolmates and friends.” After Unleashed, he explained, he played with “several area bands,” before joining Southern Knights when that group’s previous drummer left the band.
Although the group arranges all of its original material as a unit, Bruns, according to Bryant, has written all the group’s original songs.
“The songwriting process, for me, has never been etched in stone,” Bruns said. “I’ve tried almost every single recipe for writing, but the songs with the most meaning are the ones that write themselves compared to the ones that require much more effort.”
Bruns also mentioned “long periods of time,” wherein he writes nothing, followed by a flurry of creativity that will see him write “several songs in a matter of a day or two.”
“My songs have mainly been written about past relationships,” he said. “I feel that love is the one topic everyone can relate to; whether it’s falling in love or heartache, everyone’s been through it.”
Bryant joined the band as a “personal friend,” having been the former lead singer and guitarist of a group called Alter Ego. All four members agreed Bryant added a certain chemistry that made the lineup feel complete. In 2008, the group entered the studio to record its second album of original material, “Music in Dog Years.”
“I’ve written songs from start to finish in one hour,” Bryant said. “And I’ve written others that have taken two years. Inspiration and experience are the best sources in writing a song that someone else can relate to.”
Bruns agreed. “One of the most interesting things about songwriting is that you can paint this picture, which to you has a very distinct meaning, yet, someone else might have a completely different interpretation of the song. It’s music’s ability to speak to everyone that has drawn me to writing.”
Collectively, Bryant said, Skeeter McGee have been influenced by music from a wide range of genres, including The Cars, Barenaked Ladies, Sister Hazel, Counting Crows, Rush and Santana – to name a few.
“The musicians we have played with over the years have also made a difference in our styles,” he added, describing the band’s style as “‘Hootie and the Blowfish’” meets ‘Sister Hazel.’”
To be sure, the band doesn’t fill their sets with only original material. On the contrary, they’re more well known as a cover band than for their originals.
The group has played a wide array of venues over the years, spanning five states, including festivals, night clubs, benefits and wedding receptions. Their largest crowd ever was a gig in which they played in front of 5,000.
Asked to name the band’s single biggest show, Bryant replied, “The biggest shows for us are the ones that make a difference, such as the Relay-for-Life. The band has been a part of the Relay for several years. We also enjoy playing outdoor festivals and large community events. It’s always an honor to share the stage with other musicians in venues that are open to everyone. Since we have children of our own, it’s nice to look out and see our families in attendance.”
Skeeter McGee has done several free shows over the years, all of them for charity or some other worthy cause.
“The Relay-for-Life, Cornstock in Shelby County, and benefits for our hero, Aaron McCrary, are band favorites,” Bryant said. “It’s our belief this band has been very blessed over the years, and we are very fortunate to still be around to do what we love to do. It would be a shame to not pay those blessings forward to benefit those who are in need.”
Asked who the band would like to thank, Bryant said, “Our families have always been there for us. Without their support, Skeeter McGee wouldn’t exist. We’ve had soundmen and set-up crews over the years, with great support from Kevin Stuhrenberg and Darryl Saylor. The one person who put the band back into the mix, and who is basically the fifth member, is Rick Bevington. Without all the things he has done for us over the years, we would still be in the basement learning ‘Smoke on the Water!’”
The next chance to catch Skeeter McGee in concert will be from 7 to 11 p.m., Aug. 24, at the annual St. Mary’s Adult Picnic. For more information or to find out about booking the band, call Rich Bryant at 812-593-4301. For more information on the band, visit www.gigmasters.com/cover-band/Skeeter-Mcgee/.
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011