Rattle Dem Bones – Barry Patton

This profile on Barry “Bones” Patton is a contribution from Pamm Tucker, Entertainment Editor with Americana Media Group.

Rhythm bones (in some form) date back to early civilization. They have been excavated in Mesopotamian graves (3000 BC), depicted on Egyptian reliefs (3000 BC), and seen on Greek urns (500 BC). Bones were popular instruments in the Roman Empire, continuing today in Europe, and can be found across festivals throughout the United States. Irish, English and Scottish musicians probably are more known for bones playing. Early English and Irish settlers brought them to North America. They were used primarily as accompaniment to jigs and reels to keep the beat steady by duplicating the rhythm of the music. Sound familiar? Yes, a lot like a drum, but today the bones and the drum unite to fill the beat of many local venues.

Bones are sets of sticks or slabs, held between the index and middle fingers. These bones are designed to strike each other to create rolling and snapping sounds. Bones have a definition of their own, as they are not to be confused with other rhythm instruments like spoons or clappers. Their name is derived from their original composition and nomenclature, bones. For different sounds, tones, and conveniences, traditional bones (originally rib bones from animals, predominantly cattle) have taken on other materials, most commonly, wood.

Barry Patton rattlin' dem bones in the campground at G Fest in Muskogee, OK - photo by Budd Hoass

At the age of 13, Barry Patton may have been pained by the slamming car door of Cecil Hiatt’s car. But what became of a painful experience and a black and blue pinky finger, literally laid the path to stardom for Patton. “Cecil Hiatt (1933-2011) felt awful about slamming the door on my hand. He gave me my first set of bones, and my first lesson.” According to Byron Berline (world’s best fiddler, in my book and that of other bluegrass fiends as well), “Hiatt (an Oklahoma native) played with my Dad at the 101 Ranch.”

Patton was born with music in his “BONES.” Both his granddad, Lue Berline, and his uncle, Byron Berline were/are champion fiddlers. Lue Berline had played with Hiatt for years, and Byron, well, he was just something else. Byron may have helped lay the roots of NEW Grass, while you can’t give him 100% credit, he definitely was one of the pioneers of the style. “My uncle was playing with The Rolling Stones, and I just wanted to fit in with the bluegrass world,” said Patton.

“Bones” Patton plays double fisted, which means he plays bones with both hands. This means one of two things. Either he is replicating the same rhythm with both hands, or he he has separate patterns going in each. Barry was a former drummer, so playing two rhythms simultaneously is common. Double fisting on the bones, on the other hand, is extremely rare and only the best of the best can play with both hands. So, one can without a doubt, put Patton in the best of the best category.

Barry Patton has gone from his hometown of Winfield, KS to China, Broadway (NY), and even to Hollywood, with his rhythm sticks in hand. The Byron Berline Band entertained sold out crowds in China (2005); performed at the afterparty held at the Tavern on The Green for the production of Oklahoma in NY (2002), and Deadwood, an HBO series, in Hollywood (which ran from 2004-2006). Berline and Patton had a guest performance on Fox & Friends while in New York. Patton says: “I couldn’t have imagined where these bones have taken me. They have taken me to places I never dreamed about.”

Speaking of dreams, at the young age of 17, Barry Patton auditioned with Mason Williams, Composer of the hit instrumental, Classical Gas. Patton not only made the audition, but became THE bones player for Williams. “That day is one of the highest peaks of my career,” Barry remembers.

From a passion for pickin’ to a ‘bone’ified place, Barry ‘Bones’ Patton and his wife Rene have opened Patton’s Pickin’ Parlor located in Winfield.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a little taste of bluegrass to the community,” said Barry. “We share a dream of being able to establish a small music venue and music store so that people of all ages can come and experience music. I don’t know where I’d be now if I had never been exposed to music. It’s taken me all over the world! Rene and I just wanted to open that same opportunity to others.”

Patton's Pickin' Parlor in Winfield, KS

The location of Patton’s Pickin’ Parlor is also important to the couple. It’s a place that played a significant part of Winfield’s history. The Compton’s were the original owners of the home. Initially there were two houses on the property. One of the homes was a neighborhood grocery store which was run by Cynthia Hart Compton. The Rainbow Bread screen door still remains. Her son Ted married Carol, who was a music teacher in Winfield for 24 years.

The Compton’s daughter Cynthia was an accomplished violinist, and taught strings in Wichita Falls, Texas where she had been pianist and music director for many of the Horse Feathers and Applesauce dinner theater shows at Southwestern College. The Patton’s have maintained the original organ that was in the home and intend to keep it on display. Steve Spurgin, Byron Berline, and Mason Williams have also donated some historical items for display. The Patton’s plan on adding to the collection continually to keep it interesting for visitors. They will also be featuring the works of local artists. Their goal is to provide a place that will showcase some of what Winfield has to offer by utilizing local artists and vendors.

“It was just an amazing set of circumstances that brought us together with Cynthia’s heirs. With all their love of music in that home and our desire to promote music in the community it was a perfect match! Barry and I just want to share our little Parlor with Winfield and maybe provide some memories for another generation,” Rene said.

Recently, Barry “Bones” Patton and his Uncle’s band, The Byron Berline Band, performed at the 2nd annual G Fest that was held in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Along with over 50 other bands from every genre of music, The Byron Berline Band entertained an audience at the old hangar at the Hatbox Field. The audience was mesmerized as always with the upbeat performance that Barry never fails to give, as he does a figure 8, a double fist and even takes the time to click at the drummer.

It was a “Bone” to be wild performance as Patton thrilled the spectators with his skills.

His animated performance almost makes it appear as if he is floating in midair. The audience went wild every time Barry had a solo. Laughter, and gasps of “I can’t believe this guy can make those sounds out of bones,” are common at a performance. Watching his perfect rhythmic pattern as he double fists the bones will leave you in utter amazement.

But it was at his campsite, that I really got to enjoy the talents when it comes to bones playing. It is a common practice at festivals that musicians gather outside their campers or RVs to jam with other artists. Even a local police officer took his break and gathered around to listen to Bones, and several other musicians jam into the wee hours. It was an honor to sit beside Bones, and watch him smile as he wowed each of us. Rene (pronounced Reenie) took the time to show me how to position the bones. I have decided, however, after my 10-minute lesson, that I am not “bonefied” to have the title of a bones player. However, you can get your own pair of autographed bones at Barry’s web site.

If you have never experienced, Barry “BONES” Patton rattling dem bones, you definitely need to catch him at a festival or at a live performance.