|How does a rodeo cowboy make it down the road fifty to seventy thousand miles a year? The arithmetic of it defies solution. At 10 cents a mile, travel alone would run between $5,000 and $7,000. Entry fees add another couple of thousand. How much should be thrown in for food and a place to bed down? Next time you see a list of professional cowboy's winnings you'll appreciate that he ain't takin' much home.
How do the cowboys get down the road? There probably are as many answers as there are cowboys, but we can tell you how one of 'em does.
I became a full-time professional when I figured I'd gone about as far as I could go with college rodeo after I'd won the national championship in 1969. The lure of the big money was just too strong to continue in school.
That first year was a ring-tailed doozy pickup truck roaring all night, all day, all night straight through wild riders from one end of the country to the other "getting them rodeos under my belt." Five, seven, eight thousand miles a month to California, Calgary, Cheyenne and you name it. Learning geography like I'd never learned it in school. Winning sometimes but always having to come up with that $30 entry fee.
At 20 you've got a cast iron stomach from college cafeteria food and you can take the half0cooked burgers and side of grease-soaked fries. At 20 you are able to sleep anywhere, anytime, in almost any position, including vertical so piling eight deep in a motel room or sleeping stinking-sock-to-whiskery-face in the back of a pickup between rodeos hell, man, it's easy!
Does this sound like what dreams (or songs) are made of? If "suffering" leads to creativity, the rodeo cowboys ought to make the best of artists, writers, musicians. Who says they don't? Not me
I made the rodeo finals at the end of that first year, and I've been a contender ever since. My life style the second year was about the same from sea to shining sea, literally. With national anthems being played at all the rodeos, the cowboys must sometimes think they are living "America the Beautiful."
I learned to play the harmonica at 12 and was pickin' the guitar at 14. The guitar and song writing just naturally go together. Add a dash of youth rodeo and the result was my first rodeo song, "Bareback Jack," written while in high school.
I took my guitar off to college where I continued to be inspired by rodeo and suffer from cafeteria food. More songs followed: "Hometown Cowboy," "Copenhagen," "Tweedle Dee," "Rodeo Life" and others. I was competing in three events then the bares, saddlebroncs and bulls. I wrote "Bullrider" after making the wise decision not to get on them anymore. One of the song's lines is, "and the closest you'll find me to their stinking hair, is to help some other fool get flung in the air."
When I took off from Cheyenne, the jewel of the Wyoming plains, for college my parents fled the short grass country for the lush green hills of Tennessee. During college Christmas breaks, I would see my folks in Nashville and while there found the lure of Music Row about as strong as rodeo. I made the rounds, with the other thousands of pickers, only to be told, "don't call us and we won't call you."
Back in college my friends would always be asking, "Play us a song about rodeo." On my next trip to Nashville the music companies would say, "We can't sell that kind of music. Market's too limited."
I could see a real need for an eight-track tape of rodeo songs, so I gathered some musicians from my hometown, Kaycee, Wyoming, and took this "Hole In The Wall Gang" to Sheridan to a local studio where I sang ten of my songs into a recorder for posterity. Pretty good stuff, too.
Now when my friends ask me "to sing a rodeo song" I'd whip out an eight-track and lay it on 'em. Got kind of expensive so I started selling them and before you know it, I found myself in the music business!
As tape sales increased, a family company was formed with the find sounding name of American Cowboy Songs, Inc. I was promoted from rodeo cowboy to Vice President of a corporation all without pay, of course.
My Dad, Nashville based, just happened to know one of the top studio musicians and an excellent sound engineer who shared his hobby of sailing. Through them the first in a series of recording sessions was set up. In the few years since the beginning, I have four record albums. Marketing is via rodeo publications, through western stores and saddle shops and a full-time honest-to-gosh salesman out on the road at rodeos, my brother, Mike. Mike is recently out of the Coast Guard (when there was a real shortage of women). Needless to say, he's enjoying himself, seeing a lot of the country and making up for four years of shortage.
American Cowboy Songs has been able to keep its book in the black, even with very expensive recording sessions and record/tape manufacturing costs. As the company "artist," I get a royalty for each song I sing and each I write, as do the other songwriters. These royalties are a most welcome addition to my rodeo winnings. I've found a way to follow rodeo and eat, too.