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Jurassic Country – not quite musical dinosaurs

Rapp Brush (right) and Cousin Elmo make up the duo Jurassic Country.
Rapp Brush (right) and Cousin Elmo make up the duo Jurassic Country.
The band Jurassic Country, aka Brookings musicians Rapp Brush and Cousin Elmo, play vintage country and swing music – the kind that artists Buck Owens, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash would approve.

The duo is finding that plenty of folks in the area love that style of music, too.

“This is stuff you’re not going to find on the radio – the good stuff,” said Rapp, 69, who sings and plays a 295 Epiphone, a guitar that is no longer made and is known for its “vintage” tones.

“People are starving for this kind of music,” he said.

To prove it, Cousin Elmo, 64, uses the fingers on his hand to tick off the duo’s upcoming performances – one, two, three, four.

“We play about four gigs a month, and that’s just by word of mouth,” said Cousin Elmo, who is equally adept at playing 1976 Fender bass as he is six-string guitar.

The duo has played as many as 15 times in one month.

The pair can be seen playing in the region at farmers markets, arts walks, local bars and the Brookings Elks Lodge. They play for free at local care facilities and are hired for private parties.

“People hear us at a gig and say ‘Hey, we want you to perform at our birthday party or retirement party’,” Rapp said.

The band’s image matches their vintage country music. Both don black cowboy hats, black jeans with large, shiny belt buckles, and striped Western style shirts and vests. Brush is the clean-shaven one, while Elmo sports a gray beard that sweeps down over the front of his wide collar. One expects them to mosey off into the sunset on their horses, strumming their guitars and singing.

Cousin Elmo says every performance is “like playing for your family. 

“It’s back porch music, like you’re at a family reunion,” he said. “People know the words and sing along.”

In fact, the pair recognizes many familiar faces in the audience whenever they perform. 

“We have a very loyal fan base who have really turned into a family of about 30,” Rapp said.

Rapp performed publicly for the first time at age 21 in 1964 at an open mic night in the San Francisco area of North Beach. He was told by the club owner that if he would learn to sing using a microphone he would have a job.

“I didn’t follow through on that but, three years later, I started singing and playing guitar with bands in bars and clubs in southern Colorado and Wyoming,” he said. “The people in the mining camps were so starved for music that they would pass the hat around beyond the contracted (playing) time of 2 a.m. The bands would play until near sunup.”

Rapp, who’s retired, said he’s worked nearly 30 different jobs in his life, from selling vacuum cleaners to driving trash trucks to selling real estate. 

“I always took jobs that allowed me to play music on the weekends,” he said.

Cousin Elmo started playing music when he was a child, first with piano and then moving onto bass and acoustic guitar. As a young man in San Francisco, he played in several bands that opened for several well-known 1960s country and rock bands. (He refused to drop names).

He joined a touring band that took him south to Mississippi, Alabama and eventually Minnesota, where he lived for a few years before moving to the Rogue Valley and joining the Bandanna Band. In 1987, Cousin Elmo moved to Brookings, where he joined one of Rapp’s bands, which played gigs in Coos Bay, the Rogue Valley and Eureka, Calif.

The pair played together in various country and rock  cover bands, but when the last band dissolved in 2002, the two decided to continue as a duo. The called themselves Jurassic Country, based partly on their advanced age and their shared love of vintage country music.

“It just seemed like the natural thing to do,” Cousin Elmo said.

They quickly realized that the style of music they love to play had many devoted fans in the region – and those fans are “not all old people,” Cousin Elmo said.

“When we play venues such as the farmers market at the port or at Harris Beach campground during the summer, you see the young people enjoying themselves,” he said. “That’s what makes it all worth it.”

Rapp is quick to credit the songs they play.

“It’s purely the repertoire. People relate to the music; it’s what they grew up listening to.”

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