Andy Hersey’s biography reads like a western novel. He has lived the type of life that most would consider a modern myth. After spending his teens through early thirties as a true southern Arizona cowboy and horseshoer, Hersey has plenty to write and sing about. With a growing fan base and with an inspiring conviction, Hersey delivers original ranch rock tunes with an endearing touch of class and charm making all listeners welcome.
'Ranch rock' springs from cowboy life
The Sonoita-area ranchman tools around the country Roger Clyne-style, packing his equipment in a van and stopping at any club, honky-tonk or bar that will have him.
He takes the stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, singing songs about the Southwest desert and the cowboy life he's mostly left behind. If you ask him, he'll tell you the story about the horse he was shoeing that kicked him square in the stomach and sent him on his backside, causing him an injury so fierce it made him rethink his life. That's the day he had his epiphany. He traded in life on the ranch for life on the road, and he has yet to look back with regret.
Last Saturday, Hersey played before his biggest audience ever — about 800 people at the Rialto Theatre. He did a 40-minute opening set for his buddy Clyne, then joined him onstage to sing a song the pair had written together.
He sprinkled that show with songs from his upcoming second indie release, "Between God and Country," the follow-up to his 2002 debut, "Compañero Blanco." The disc will be released late this month or early in April.
On a cool Sunday morning in January, he played a showcase of those songs in the Northwest Side living room of longtime friend and former KIIM-FM DJ Mark Bateman and his wife, Kim, and a few friends.
"I hope you like this," Hersey said before every song, then acted genuinely excited and relieved when everyone clapped.
Hersey has created his own style of country music that he likes to call "ranch rock." It's cowboy country, with Western accents laid over contemporary country like what the late Chris LeDoux did, only without as much energy. But it is a country sound that defines Tucson much in the way that Calexico defines desert rock.
Four years ago, Hersey left his day job shoeing horses and dove full time into a music career he had been nurturing on weekends for 18 years. He decided back then, though, that he would no longer provide the soundtrack of country covers for folks dancing and drinking in bars. He would only do his own music, songs seeped in the Southwest that defines him.
It was slow at first, but Hersey guesses he'll do 200 shows this year all around the country, following in the footsteps of his longtime friend, Phoenix roots rocker Clyne. (Hersey lives on the front 20 acres of the Clyne family's Sonoita-area ranch as a gentleman rancher, raising a few head of cattle, 40 chickens — "that's about 30 eggs every day" — and boarding horses.)
The 39-year-old father of two boys recorded his sophomore indie album in Nashville.
Describe your music: "Everybody likes to compartmentalize. Let's call it from traditional to folk rock. Cowboy stuff, always with a Western theme. Ranch rock."
Describe your live show: "The live show is always very intimate and personable. I have a full 90 minutes of my own stuff that I do. I'll be damned if I'm going to drive to Denver to do Johnny Cash. You play harder to six people than 60. "
Your big brush with fame: "Fame is not the goal. Notoriety for the songs is the goal. That way, it is not all about me. My whole self-worth is not about how famous I get. We love that we are making a difference and that people do listen."
Career you want most to emulate: "I liked — until he started acting — Kris Kristofferson. He had a bunch of people recording his songs."
The day job you left behind: "Shoeing horses. I got tired of getting hurt shoeing horses."