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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress presents

The Homegrown 2009 Concert Series
Traditional Ethnic and Regional Music and Dance that's "Homegrown" in Communities Across the US

October 7, 2009 Event Flyer

Cowboy Poet Paul Zarzyski and
Cowboy Singer-Composer Wylie Gustafson

Wylie Gustafson and Paul Zarzyski flyer

The occupational poetry and music of the cowboy date back to the trail drive days of the second half of the 1800s, with roots going back much further to ballads and broadsides of the British Isles. Like loggers and sailors, cowboys made up poems about their work and their lives, using British ballads, and the work of poets such as Rudyard Kipling and Robert W. Service, as models of form and style. Poetry and music were closely intertwined, a song being just a poem that someone attached to a melody. Like the poets of those trail drive days who wrote about their experiences, many contemporary cowboy poets and songwriters write about life in the ranching West today. Two of the genre's finest wordsmiths writing today are Wylie Gustafson and Paul Zarzyski. In today's world of commercial country music there are any number of "hat acts," with the latest hunk-of-the-month attempting to affect a cowboy image. Not so with Montanans Wylie Gustafson and Paul Zarzyski; they are the "real deal" and have earned their hats the old-fashioned way: on horseback.

Singer, songwriter, rancher and horseman Wylie Gustafson was born in Conrad, Montana. He learned to sing and yodel from his father, R.W. "Rib" Gustafson, a rancher and retired large-animal veterinarian. Rib Gustafson sang cowboy songs and folksongs in the living room of the family home. "The Sierry Peaks," "The Bad Brahama Bull," "The Blue-Tailed Fly," and "Red River Valley" were some of the songs Wylie learned at an early age. Wylie has also absorbed influences from other sources, including rock 'n' roll, which he seamlessly incorporates into his music. Wylie founded his band, The Wild West, in 1989 in Los Angeles at the world famous Palomino Club, where they performed on Ronnie Mack's Barn Dance. Wylie is a virtuoso yodeler and did the "Yahoo-oo-oo!" for the Yahoo commercial. Wylie has recorded more than seventeen albums, performed more than 50 times on the Grand Ole Opry, and recently appeared on the Conan O'Brien show. An accomplished horseman, Wylie breeds, trains and shows cutting horses. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to feed his cattle and horses. Wylie claims tending to his livestock is what keeps him grounded and is the backbone of his art.

Rodeo poet Paul Zarzyski was born in Wisconsin but early on moved west to spend fifteen years riding bareback broncs on various rodeo circuits. He now lives in Great Falls, Montana, and he has now been "spurring the words wild" for thirty-five years. He has established himself as one of the country's premiere cowboy poets. Unlike much of traditional cowboy poetry, most of Paul's poetry is free verse. He says his poems tend to "rhyme a skosh more in the middle than they do out on the jagged ends of the lines." He has published more than ten books of poetry. His Wolf Tracks on the Welcome Mat received the 2004 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and All This Way for the Short Ride: Rough Stock Sonnets, won the 1997 Western Heritage (Wrangler) Award from The National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Paul was the recipient of the 2005 Montana Governor's Arts Award for Literature. In addition to his poetry, Paul has co-written songs with Ian Tyson, Tom Russell and Don Edwards as well as Wylie Gustafson.

While Wylie and Paul each have individual careers they have recently been collaborating on songwriting and doing joint performances around the country. Wylie's most recent album Hang and Rattle includes seven songs co-written with Paul. The "show" they do together is very different than what they do alone or what Wylie would do with his band The Wild West. Both are kinetic performers who are very physical on stage, and when they're interacting with each other the energy level can be explosive. American Cowboy Magazine says they are "like Lennon and McCartney in cowboy hats." Like two old-time cowpokes sitting around a campfire making up verses together, Wylie and Paul are firmly rooted in tradition, but what they are creating is, to use Paul's terminology,"rock 'n' rowel."

Charlie Seemann, Executive Director
Western Folklife Center
Elko, Nevada

American Folklife Center Logo The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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