Under cover

Coney Dogs

The Coney Dogs—Gary Kephart, Richard Washburn and Ken Pierson—are somewhere between a cover band and a reinterpretation band.

The Coney Dogs—Gary Kephart, Richard Washburn and Ken Pierson—are somewhere between a cover band and a reinterpretation band.


The Coney Dogs’ next few shows are Jan. 6, Jan, 20, Feb. 10 and Feb. 20 at Midtown Wine Bar, 1527 S. Virginia St.

The Coney Dogs were reworking Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” at a recent rehearsal. The version they started with, with twangy guitar strums and an adult-contemporary vibe, led bass guitarist Gary Kephart to jokingly start dozing off. Drummer Richard Washburn took the hint and suggested a livelier punk rock version based on Social Distortion’s cover of the hit. The band began to jam with that in mind, and the grittier sound came together, more to their liking.

Coney Dogs is primarily a cover band—and the bandmates call their music “covers of covers.” They play songs by the likes of Violent Femmes, the Beatles, America and the Rolling Stones, and they stay mostly true to the original lyrics, but the sound is something very different. Songs that were once full of horns and multiple backup singers get stripped down, then the bandmates add in bass and guitar solos and funky beats.

Kephart built his drums and likes to experiment with the 400 sounds on the electronic set.

Although the band has been in existence for over 20 years, its three members have only played one gig in their current iteration. Washburn and Kephart joined vocalist/guitar player Ken Pierson just a few months ago, when two previous members left the group. Pierson has bestowed on himself the title, “Keeper of the Coney Dogs,” since he has seen the band through every previous mix of members. Twelve men have come and gone over the years, but Pierson is the constant Coney. And something about the current configuration of his beloved Dogs makes him feel like they’ve got a winning recipe.

“Sometimes you just stumble on meeting great people,” Pierson said. “We got a rehearsal together to see if the three of us would fit. That night I thought, ’Wow, this is really fun. There are two other guys who like to play and are super talented and very humble.’ We all give input and listen to each other, and we seem to know where each other are going with a song mid-stream.”

These guys have each been playing music since their childhood days. Although two of the members are now essentially retired, the band is not. The band is part poker-night bonding and part putting on a show. As the bandmates play, they “read” the crowd, scanning the room for bobbing heads and tapping feet. When they notice that people are responding to a style or song, they “throw another log on the fire” and keep playing what the people are into.

When not with the Coney Dogs, Kephart shares his music with a different crowd. He plays for Alzheimer’s patients as a side project, and he said he’s seen the power of music in their lives.

“I see what the music does to these people, and it just brings them out,” he said. “People that you’ve never heard speak, they’ll speak or sing. Then they’ll sink back into their other world that they live in. Music is a beautiful thing.”

The Coney Dogs’ shows have had good turnouts—and Pierson feels that local musicians are a valuable part of local culture.

“There’s all these little bands, and you just gotta go see them,” Pierson said. “They’re not on labels. They’re not on YouTube, probably. They’re just out playing, enjoying themselves. You gotta get out there and listen.”