Evolution of a Country Songwriter
By: Lynda Shuckburgh-Thurston
One of my earliest musical memories involves driving along a dusty country road in an old Fargo pickup truck with no radio. This was before the concept of seatbelts and IPods and our entertainment was listening to my dad, Walt Shuckburgh sing songs like Cowboy in the Continental Suit, Cattle Call, Moon Light Bay and Rusty Old Halo. As part of my early upbringing the country dance hall circuit was a family affair and we danced to the sounds of Ivan Wigemyr and Jim Peake. Of course rodeo families know the Wigemyr’s love of roping and Jim Peak should be given some credit for mentoring his son, Ryan Peake to musical success in Nickelback. They played the south country halls of Cessford, Jenner, Duchess and Patricia. Plenty of cowboy boots polished the wax on those old wooden floors when I was a kid.
As rodeo became the focal point of my families world another sensory experience planted seeds of musical longings inside of me. Let’s call it cowboy picki’n. It was a spontaneous and informal event that might include champion cowboys and often as not itinerant ner’e do wells that magically surfaced on a sea of alcohol.
As for the cowboys who could pick and grin they were many and varied in skill levels and finesse. Most will agree that the finest among them was Alec Laye on mandolin and Mark Laye on any instrument handy. Of course those joining the party might include the likes of George Myren, Mel and Wilf Hyland, Mel Brown, Coleman Robinson or Ivan Daines.
Doug Vold and Billy Lowry could liven things up considerably with rousing renditions of songs less sacred than a George Jones classic.
Those pickin’ sessions happened anywhere and everywhere. In hotel lobbies, motel rooms, at somebody’s camp on the rodeo grounds, always on the river bank at the Calgary Stampede and usually for one or two days after the Canadian Finals in the hotel lobby. It was the perfect gypsy recreation for a group of people suffering from rodeo wander lust.
After miles flying down the highway time moved slowly in the basic rhythm of those campfire sing alongs. One of the best gatherings was at Jim Dunn’s house after the 50,000 Dollar Round at the Calgary Stampede. Out in the yard an extension cord to the bonfire provided juice for bareback rider, Robin Burwash’s steel guitar. All of this mesmerized me in a way that satisfied my soul.
When I went to college in Glendive Montana I bought a guitar and taught myself how to play. As I stumbled around on the instrument it became very clear that what little ‘playing’ I could accomplish was connected to words. Thus I became a closet songwriter. When Skeeter and I moved to Big Valley, Alberta I found my musical soul mates.
A Nebraska native, Lori Gordon owns a saddle shop in Big Valley. It was the perfect place to drag out the guitars and mandolin and have some cold beers. Joining us was Texan cowgirl Robyn Armstrong. We fooled around for a few years and played at Cowboy Church and poetry gatherings. The more we played the more I wrote and so with an armload of songs I suggested we make a record. In March of 2010 three ranch women boarded a plane for Nashville. Inside my binder of notes and music sheets was a copy of Curtis Anderson’s inspirational speech about his long journey back from a bull riding injury. What we lacked in experience we made up for with raw courage.
We had worked and planned and what happened in those eight days was one of the most exciting things I have ever done.
“The Recording Session”
Several years ago through CKUA radio I became a fan of Sam Baker’s music. There is an “other world” quality to Sam’s presentation. I wanted some of that simplicity on our record so I went to Sam’s performance at the Twin Butte General store and introduced myself to his producer Tim Lorsch. A master violinist, Tim is a stellar person in many regards. By the time “Genuine Cowgirls” arrived in Nashville, Tim had assembled Willie Nelson’s engineer, Bradley Hartman, Hank Williams Jr.’s steel guitarist, Mike Daly, stand up bassist Tish Simeral, guitarist George Bradfute and a quirky and crazy drummer by the name of Mickey Grimm. They were the “band” for the base recording. They were such skilled players that we girls sung on headsets and they played along like they had heard it a hundred times. They usually only needed 2 or 3 takes per song. They trusted what each musician was doing and some of the spontaneous trailers for the outtro’s were so cool we left them on the record. Like the best pick up men in rodeo those players could feel and hear exactly where they needed to be. We weren’t trying to make a commercial recording so we did what we wanted. Tammie Henke of TC and Company from Water Valley, AB. played drums on Lori’s Leather and Repair. My mom sang on the chorus in an irreverent presentation that sounds just like Friday nights at the saddle shop with the locals chiming in!
We wound up the last session with Church of the Lost and Found and all the musicians came into the control room and someone said” Amen”. It was almost a group hug and it was clear the players had as much fun as we did. While I should have been embarrassed to even play my guitar in front of them, they never once were condescending in their attitudes. They loved playing and knew their way around music like Ty Murray knows his way around the bucking chutes.
I felt like the Calgary Stampede Novice Saddle Bronc Champ on stage with the trophy. I had been scared but I believed. For posterity we have a great record about the simple things of our life and that’s sacred.
……….. Next month more rodeo jam stories and Matt Robertson new CD…………..
Lynda Thurston is a former rodeo broadcaster and journalist. Mother to the “Thurston Gang” and wife of NFR Saddle Bronc rider Skeeter Thurston she is the driving force behind the country band Genuine Cowgirls. Genuine Cowgirls were recently nominated for Alberta Country Music” Group or Duo” of the Year and Fan’s Choice Award.
Their CD “Songs from the Saddle shop” is available through the link on this website.
Lynda will be doing several features on cowboy music and telling a few tales about rodeo gatherings in the upcoming months.