He didn’t start out singing cowboy songs either, but if you have any doubt he’s a cowboy singer you haven’t heard him performing “Bonita Cattle Drive.”
We’re goin’ up the Carter Trail and over Fowler Pass
Then up Bonita Canyon they’ll be belly deep in grass
So it’s hay ya hidy by it’s whoopitiyiya
Move along little doggies or ther’ll be hell to pay
Taylor wrote that song about the annual cattle drive to summer pastures at Cimarron’s Philmont Scout Ranch, something he knows about. Before retiring this year, Taylor, 61, was a cowboy at Philmont for more than 34 years.
“My primary duty was taking care of the cows, about 300 head, and the buffalo, about a hundred head,” Taylor said during a recent phone interview from his Cimarron home, a house in town after many years at Philmont’s cattle headquarters. While most cowboy work is potentially dangerous – loco cows and bust-in-two broncs – Taylor said herding buffalo, some of which can weigh as much as a ton or more, is especially ripe with risk.
“It’s a whole different deal than working cattle,” he said. “Buffalo don’t like to be cornered.” And woe be to the cowpuncher, horse, barbed-wire fence or corral gate that gets in the way when a buffalo decides to get uncornered.
“It’s pretty Western,” Taylor said about dustups with the shaggy animals.
Pretty Western also applies to the fifth annual Cimarron Cowboy Music & Poetry Gathering this week in Cimarron, about 210 miles northeast of Albuquerque in Colfax County. There are events at the St. James Hotel and also at the Philmont Scout Ranch Training Center Auditorium.
Taylor will perform with his trio, The Rifters, at a kick-off dance at 7 p.m. Thursday at the St. James and solo at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Philmont Training Center. He has been part of all four previous Cimarron Gatherings.
“It’s not so unlike other cowboy gatherings around,” Taylor said. “It’s got good music, good poetry and a real family appeal to it. And Cimarron is pretty and cool.”
Taylor was reared in Lubbock, Texas, graduating from Lubbock’s Monterrey High School in 1975. He was a town kid.
“My dad sold business machines and later tags for cotton bales,” he said. He was introduced to cowboy life because a friend’s family had a ranch near Lubbock.
“We would go out there and go camping, bird hunting, fishing and ranching,” Taylor said. “We graduated from fence work to horseback.”
He worked on Philmont’s summer staff from 1974 to 1978.
“The last three years I was in the livestock part of it,” Taylor said. “The primary responsibility was taking Boy Scouts on dude rides, packing burros and teaching Scouts to pack burros.”
He attended Texas Tech, his home town college, for one semester.
“I was thinking about forestry and getting a degree,” he said. “But after working at Philmont in the summer of ’76, I went to work for the WS Ranch (at Cimarron). Once I started cowboying for real, I was hooked. I knew that is what I wanted to do, being outside in the big, open country. I for sure loved the horses, but I have to admit that I for sure loved the cows, too.”
Taylor got his first guitar when he was 12 and started performing with a music group in high school. They did acoustic music, but it wasn’t exactly cowboy.
“It was what they would nowadays call Americana – Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Eagles, bluegrass,” he said.
Music took a backseat to cowboying through the ’80s as Taylor worked at the UU Bar and WS at Cimarron, the TO Ranch near Raton and then settled in at the Philmont Ranch in 1983.
“But I always kept my hand in the music,” he said. “I met the musicians in Red River, and I’d sit in with them and other local musicians around the area.”
When the start of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., in 1985 spurred a cowboy revival of sorts, Taylor’s wife, Patty, suggested he record a cowboy-music album. He did.
“Ridin’ Down the Canyon,” 1990, is a 10-cut CD that includes favorite Western songs such as the title number by Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette and Gary McMahan’s “The Ole Double Diamond,” as well as two Taylor offerings – “What Really Matters,” a straight-up love song, and “Ole Will,” an ode to an old cowboy rattling with his memories.
He played for a time with a group called The Rounders and in 2002 helped form The Rifters, a quartet originally but now a trio featuring Taylor, vocals, acoustic guitar and mandolin; Jim Bradley, vocals and bass; and Don Richmond, vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, dobro and, why not, accordion.
The Rifters, named for the Rio Grande rift, is not a cowboy band. In addition to originals, some of which have a definite Western flavor, they play songs by Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Van Morrison and Joe Ely. That’s OK by Taylor.
“I love all kinds of music,” he said. “I love big band music, I love the old standards, I love Frank Sinatra.” But that doesn’t mean he’s not a cowboy. He may have moved into town but he’s still got his saddle and five horses.
“I hope to do day work and help the neighbors,” he said. “I’m helping a friend that has a little place down at Wagon Mound, keeping my hand in and playing a little more music.”