BRYAN RAGSDALE: MODERN DAY MOUNTAIN MAN
A Conservationist Cowboy And U.S. Veteran Who Drives A Prius, Ragsdale Loves Fishing, Camping And Backpacking, Performs 200 Shows A Year And Recently Released His First Single “Modern Day Mountain Man” To Americana, Country And College Radio
Back in ’78, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson scaled the country charts with the warning of “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” The song’s lyrics by Ed Bruce and Patsy Bruce advise mothers to raise their children as doctors or lawyers rather than cowboys, who seem to be “always alone.”
Bryan Ragsdale is making those mamas think again.
Celebrating the lifestyle, values and love of wide open spaces Where Cowpokes Grow—the name of his latest independent CD–the Wyoming born and raised singer/songwriter (www.bryanragsdale.com) redefines “cowboy cool” for the modern world with an upbeat mix of country, bluegrass, folk and a little old fashioned cowboy swagger for good measure.
Through RCI Music in Franklin, Tennessee, Ragsdale recently released the collection’s high spirited debut single “Modern Day Mountain Man”—about a city slicker’s relocation from New York City to “old Wyoming”—to over 500 Americana, Country and College Radio stations across the U.S. On the competition based website www.ourstage.com, the track reached #2 in both the bluegrass and traditional country genres for two months each.
“Wyoming Melody,” the title track from his 2007 debut album Wyoming Melodies, was the theme song for a TV show called “All Girl Getaways” on the Fine Living Network; the show was about the Ranger Creek Dude Ranch in Wyoming.
Ragsdale knows a little something about dude ranches—he performs at many of them throughout the state as part of his breakneck schedule of some 200 shows annually wherever folks gather in Wyoming. He plays schools, concert halls, libraries, resorts and festivals like Nicfest at the Nicolasion Museum in Casper. He is slated to perform at West Fest, a major annual cowboy festival, in Cheyenne on September 5. During the winter, Ragsdale does musical residencies at schools from elementary to high school, teaching songwriting and inspiring students to dream beyond the limitations of their present lives.
Hardly fitting the “tough guy” mold of John Wayne and The Marlboro Man, Ragsdale cuts his own unique path through the endless miles of God’s Country. He’s a devoted dad to Austin (age 13), Caleb (8) and 15 month old Joanne, for whom he wrote one of Where Cowpokes Grow’s most heartfelt and poignant songs, “Little Jo.” His fiancée Coral, a Montana native who inspired the jangling bluegrass jam “Montana Made,” is a world-class fly fisherperson.
A onetime Navy gunners mate who worked in counter narcotics, boarding drug vessels in Panama to catch traffickers, the salt of the earth working man—who toiled as commissioning foreman at a gas plant before dedicating his life full time to music–enjoys fishing, camping, backpacking—and drives a Prius to his gigs.
He’s happy to let his fans in on a little secret: the best conservationists in the world are ranchers. “I drive 1,500 miles a week playing music at the finest resorts and ranches across the Rockies,” he says. “I wear Wranglers, a hat, western shirts, and yes I drive a hybrid that gets 50 miles per gallon. Folks often joke and laugh about it, a cowboy in a little car packed full of equipment, how funny is that? Not so funny, actually, if you look at gas prices, the current state of oil, our environment and our economy. There are opportunities for all of us to make a difference when it comes to conservation, even if you are a hick living in a state that produces more natural gas, more oil, and more coal than any other state in the lower 48. We can all make a difference!”
As inspirational as Ragsdale’s environmentally conscious ways are to those fans who share his respect for the land, the multi-talented performer also sets a great example by donating generously of his time and talent to various charities and by finding a way to give back to the U.S. military who funded his education at the University of Utah. His ex-wife’s experience as a brain cancer survivor has motivated him to perform at many Relay for Life events put on by the American Cancer Society and to donate thousands of copies of his CDs to young cancer survivors throughout Wyoming. He has also donated thousands of them to troops from Wyoming who are stationed overseas; one of his goals is to broaden his base so that he can share his music with many more troops from across the U.S.
At the creative core of these endeavors lies the heart of an artist devoted to his musical craft, and the true-life tale of his emergence as a solo artist sets a great example for up and coming artists to stick to their guns rather than sell out their true vision in order to fast track their careers. Pursuing his country music dreams, he moved Coral and his kids to Nashville in 2005 and found quick success and accolades in the world class songwriting community he found there. While he was there, he recorded Wyoming Melodies, a folky set he jokingly calls “the result of my mom feeding me Joan Baez and John Denver for breakfast.” The songs on the well-received project tried to reconcile his truest heart with what he learned that it took to make it in the mainstream country music business.
“The powers that be all told me same thing,” Ragsdale says. “They thought my songs were fantastic, but said I needed to write more the way they write. Several big time songwriters were even eager to help me get to the next level. One of the reasons Where Cowpokes Grow is so focused thematically on the West is that I noticed that none of the music coming out of Tennessee these days is from a Rocky Mountain perspective. So much of the songs are about rednecks, being drunk, having sex, acting stupid. They wanted me to sing songs that promote bad behavior and I just couldn’t do that. I have young kids and a grandmother, and my feeling is, if I would be ashamed to have them listen to it, then I don’t want to do it. So my choice was to either fake it and play the game to get more opportunities or take the hard road, hightail it back to Wyoming and start making music on my own terms. I know I made the right choice.”
Writing and recording Where Cowpokes Grow while launching what has become an incredibly busy live performance schedule, Ragsdale set out to give people a Rocky Mountain/Wyoming perspective on life and the opportunity to see what cowboys truly are. “What does it mean to be a cowboy?” he asks rhetorically. “Not claiming to be John Wayne, a man I grew up adoring, I am still a cowboy.
“I grew up in Wyoming, in the shadow of great cowboys,” he continues. “I have rode horses most of my life, yet song after song I struggle to capture the picture that Remington showed us at ease? It is my feeble opinion that what lies inside a cowboy is much more important than the hat he wears, or the boots resting upon his feet. My grandfather and father wore steel toes. My uncle wore sneakers. Does their footwear detract from their measure as cowboys? They definitely worked harder than anyone I know. They built the fences that line the Wind River Range, they built the roads that we now drive upon, they mined the minerals we use to make our lives easier, they fished the streams and rivers that so many now clamber to fish. They taught me the outdoors, the love of nature, the love of family, self worth, discipline, faith, family and manners. All of these things, like the American Cowboy, are disappearing.
“Are their disappearances linked?” he adds. “I believe they are. Anyone with strong family values and traditions, a strong longing for freedom and space, a willingness to die for what they believe, and a faith in something greater is a cowboy at heart. The best Cowboys I know rarely venture out for months, living on whiskey and Copenhagen. Although I enjoy both on occasion, they are not what makes me a cowboy. I am a cowboy because of the values that were forced upon me by relentless parents and grandparents. Thank God for their patience and stern hands, which made me everything I am so proud to be today.”