They call the band Counting Coup. That’s because writing original songs and performing them live for a roomful of strangers requires an act of bravery.
Lead singer, songwriter and bass player Troy Falcon says the name is a metaphor for the band, which has three members of Native American heritage. Counting Coup evokes stylings of a Texas swing band; the sound is vintage with Falcon’s warm tenor sometimes hitting a high-pitched yip for good measure. Troy’s older brother, Toby, shares songwriting duties, plays guitar and sings back-up vocals. The brothers are quiet, humble, and down-to-earth.
“Playing together in a band was a daydream of ours when we were young,” Troy said.
The brothers often send song lyrics back and forth on their phones. Later, the melody and the lyrics come together with harmonica player Brenden Fritzler bringing a bluesy vibe showing off his love of legendary performers like Jimi Hendrix. Drummer Matt Kuhl joined in late May with a goal of making “the band sound good.”
The Falcons are members of the newly federally recognized Little Shell Band of Chippewa and Fritzler is of Crow and Hispanic heritage. When they play local shows, there is often a table of family members up front, wearing band T-shirts. Troy said he likes to explain the meaning behind the band’s name at their shows, his way of sharing their heritage.
“Some people don’t know what counting coup means. It is a source of pride, a cry of confidence and strength,” Troy said.
Counting Coup will have a chance to talk about their original music as a featured band during the Billings Singer Songwriter Festival Friday, June 11, at Craft Local. Counting Coup played one of its first live shows at Craft Local when it first opened, said Craft Local president Duane Sitzman.
“I have a lot of appreciation for these guys. They’re good,” he said.
Counting Coup formed during the winter of 2017-2018 when Fritzler was still a teenager. Now 23, he is the youngest member of the group, but his on-stage confidence belies his age. He plays with the demeaner and soul of an ancient blues man. Fritzler said his guitar-playing uncle Beau introduced him to blues rock music when he was a fifth grader, and Fritzler brought that love of blues to the harmonica when he picked it up a few years ago after originally playing drums with Counting Coup.
“It was the rhythm, the grit of the blues that I wanted to bring,” Fritzler said.
At the Helping Hands Poker Run fundraiser recently at the American Legion, Counting Coup mixed in original tunes with classics like “16 Tons.” One of their newest songs, “Something Strong,” sounds familiar on the first listen with a smooth, catchy melody punctuated by Fritzler’s harmonica.
“We have quite a few heavy songs, but you know we’ve had a hard year and everybody can relate to that,” Troy said.
Troy enjoyed writing poetry in his honor’s English classes at Senior High, and his lyrics show his love of words, rhymes and storytelling. Another new song, “Mary and Me,’’ is a story of a teenage crime spree, ending with the “marshal on my tail and the Crow Council, too.”
Troy played trumpet in the Senior High School Band and after high school, moved to Nashville with two friends. He said he enjoyed the Nashville scene and getting involved in some writer-in-the-round events, but after 18 months, he came home to Billings to be near his family.
At about the same time, Kuhl moved to Malta with his wife from his home in upstate New York. He has played with a variety of bands, and when he met the Falcon brothers at the Red Ants Pants Festival and heard about their band, he asked to join them.
“The way I saw it, they were trying to find their sound,” Kuhl said. “I liked these guys, they are kind. Everybody thinks of musicians being cocky and throwing TVs out the window. That’s not this band.”
It took a few years for Kuhl to become an official member of Counting Coup, and now the full band is playing the side stage at Red Ants Pants at 7:30 p.m. on July 24. They were originally booked to play the music festival in White Sulphur Springs in the summer of 2020, but the festival was canceled due to COVID.
“We’re used to playing smaller places, but it’s exhilarating to play a big stage,” Troy said.
They also have an outdoor show lined up for June 26 as part of the Harlo Music Project at Gally’s Brewing in downtown Harlowton, another show at the American Legion on July 7, and they will perform at Thirsty Street at The Garage on July 9 with the “Call It Country” show.
“We’re getting our name out to the area,” Troy said.