Cowboy Ballads and Dance Songs
Some of the first songs Wylie Gustafson ever heard are here, learned at his father’s knee. They are songs of the West, handed down in families, and kept close to the heart. They are good for singing, remembering, and dancing, an important legacy of the West.
Wylie and the Wild West perform some 90 shows a year, working as far east as France, as far west as Japan, and occasionally, as far south as Australia. They’ve worked at huge urban festivals in all parts of the nation, at famous halls such as the Kennedy Center, and in scores of tiny rural schoolhouses along the northern plains and in the Northwest. They are favorite visitors at the Grand Ole Opry and at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and that’s Wylie you hear giving the Yahoo yodel.
Wylie is also fond of Canada, and sometimes goes up to the western provinces for cutting contests. That’s where he won one of the huge belt buckles he wears. He is proud of his fine cutting horse, Whiskey. He’s very modest about his roping skills, but he wins often.
Wylie and the Wild West are a show band, famous for multiple encores, the group you want to close the show. Because of this, Wylie and the boys are seeing the nation and world, and learning that good music, laughter, and friendliness is contagious.
But they also have other work. Wylie is a full-time rancher, and he and his wife, Kimberley, own a ranch near Dusty, Washington (population 11), that once belonged to her grandpa. Wylie’s feet have to go into his boots at 5:30 AM every morning as he has horses, cattle, and buffalo to feed. Yep, 5:30, whether it is snowing, sleeting, or the sun is broiling.
But Wylie claims that the weather is usually good. “We’re in the rolling Palouse hills, near the Snake River, and not far from the Blue Mountains. It’s some of the prettiest country the Lord made.”
Wylie and Kimberley raise and train Quarter Horses, and sometimes have a few to sell (check Wylie’s website if you are interested). They raise cattle, and nowadays some buffalo for the hamburger market. Both of them were reared on ranches, and while they like visiting other places, can’t imagine living any other place.
Wylie’s favorite cowboy singer is his father, Rib Gustafson. Rib’s nickname is a tribute to his joking (ribbing) about the many things in life that need humorous attention. He was a Navy pilot during World War II, and he is an old-time cowboy from the hard knocks school. A lifelong resident of Montana, Rib worked his way through veterinary school as a wrangler and threshing crew member.
Even his songs were learned at work. Rib spent time as a wrangler on a dude ranch that had 100 dudes seeking strength in Montana, and learned songs from fellow wranglers, Jack O’Brien, Paddy Ryan, and Bob Atkins. He team roped, bulldogged, and when Wylie came along, taught him songs worth knowing, including seven recorded here.
Now age 80, Rib was out at work when we called about these notes. He’d roped a cow, and administered the dose it needed. He has also taken up a new line of work: writing books. His tales have filled six books, but he still claims that not everything worth saying has been said.
Yes, Wylie got his championship yodel from Rib, and his yen to operate a ranch, his sense of humor, and his love for horses. He says that being around horses makes a good life.
Wylie and the Wild West have a web site where you can check on where they are playing, buy a Quarter Horse, or hire them to come and enliven your shindig if you are so inclined. Why not pay them a visit at: www.wyliewebsite.com
Joe Wilson is director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts.