For a rockabilly singer like Brian Lee Dunning, and his sidekick Mike Cook who is known as Evel Midget, sitting at home in Yukon is no way for veteran roadhouse entertainers to live.
The nightclubs, bars and music venues are closed nationwide. Their acts are stranded at home these days. Dunning, 47, has toured and performed locally over the past 30 years as an Elvis Presley impersonator, musician and frontman of rockabilly bands . He is unplugged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cook’s acts as a leprechaun, an elf and the Evel Midget hot rod man on reality TV , are also on pause.
Recently, Dunning did land a gig. It was in the front yard of the home of a terminally ill woman in Oklahoma City.
The audience consisted of a few family members who stood along the edge of the driveway. Dunning strummed his six-string acoustic with the black pick guard, staying about 6 yards from the porch. The woman used a wheelchair to get as close as was allowed.
Then Dunning let it rip with the “That’s Alright (Mama),” and she started to bop along.
It wasn’t the typical late night scene that Dunning knows.
“It felt odd to me because I’m used to being up in people’s face up close,’ Dunning said. “But they were pleased with it so I was pleased.”
Then he drove home to Yukon. There was no Saturday night show to do.
For his roommate Cook, things are no better. Cook, and his persona as the daredevil Evel Midget, has gained nationwide notoriety with the hot rod car culture. Cook has appeared on reality TV shows. He has already had one show postponed until things get better.
Cook misses the thrill of live crowds.
“It’s disheartening when you are used to performing for people who are standing and cheering. This hits pretty hard,” Cook said.
Cook’s Chevrolet Caprice wagon, painted black with flames, sits at home off State Highway 66 with a full tank of gas.
In March, Cook was supposed to drive it to Atlanta to be filmed for an upcoming TV show. He also makes money playing a leprechaun, and one of his nightclub acts in Holdenville booked for the trip to Atlanta, was canceled.
Dunning said his shows started being canceled in March. Things haven’t gotten better in April.
“I’ve lost four gigs this month. It sucks, but it is what it is,” Dunning said.
One show would have been at the Centre Theater in El Reno on the Backwoods Country Music Show. A road trip to Salina, Kansas was also canceled.
He has been able to get by, he said.
“If it goes on another month it is going to hurt,” Dunning said.
Dunning said he is keeping himself busy at his home he calls, “Disgraceland” with his number of classic motor vehicles.
“I’m just piddlin’ with cars,” Dunning said.
Cook is no stranger to crisis. He was born with a form a dwarfism, and he stands 4 feet 1 inch. When he was 2 weeks-old he had a tracheotomy and six weeks later caught pneumonia after the surgery. He survived it.
“I’ve overcome a lot of physical disabilities in my life. I’ve still raced motorcycles though,’ Cook said.
He said he has raced a motorcycle through 21 walls of fire like Evel Knievel did in his early years. There were times growing up when it was not known how many birthdays he would see in life.
Cook also does body work on hot rods when not entertaining , and he has feared losing his day job during the pandemic.
He has turned to doing more essential work on vehicles for now. Cook, 38, says he plans to keep fighting, whatever is ahead, even if he is in a vulnerable group now,. And he anxiously awaits getting back on the road, again .
“I take it as a badge of honor that I once beat that pneumonia when I was two,” Cook said. “So I say I will be fine.”
Read the story Saturday in The Yukon Progress.