ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When you’re a full-time horseshoer, an all-the-time cowboy and an up-and-coming Western musician, you need to be ready when that maverick creature known as the muse comes snorting and pawing into camp.
That’s why Lemitar’s Doug Figgs has written lots of songs – hefty chunks of them anyway – on the tailgate of his blue, Chevy pickup truck.
“Some of my best songs have come from my tailgate,” Figgs said by phone from his Lemitar ranch. “That’s a big majority of it.”
He has learned to carry pen and paper along with horseshoes, hammers, nails and hoof trimmers. One of his first songs, “N Bar,” was written in between shoeing about 30 horses at the N Bar Ranch near Reserve about seven years ago. It came out, in part, like this.
We’ve been driving that road for 14 years
I think the pickup knows the way
But there’s always something new to see
At the start of an N Bar day.
Truckload of success
Considering he’s pulled some of them out of the back of a truck, Figgs, 57, has had remarkable success with his songs.
In 2015 alone, he was the International Western Music Association’s songwriter of the year; “Socios,” a song he wrote with Ethan Smith, was IWMA song of the year; “Charlie and Evangeline,” written with Todd Carter, won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for songwriting; and “Runnin’ With the Wind,” penned with Mariam Funke, snagged the New Mexico Music Award for best Western song.
Last year, The Cowboy Way, a trio made up of Figgs, Socorro’s Funke and Jim Jones of Albuquerque, received the prestigious Wrangler Award, presented by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, for its self-titled debut CD, which was recognized as best traditional Western album.
This year Figgs is nominated for IWMA male performer of the year and also entertainer of the year, honors to be awarded during the organization’s annual convention, Wednesday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Hotel Albuquerque. The Cowboy Way is nominated in the duo or group of the year category.
“It keeps getting more and more serious,” Figgs said of his songwriting, singing and guitar playing. “I just keep trying to get better. I listen to Mike Blakely. I think he’s one of the best songwriters there is. Also, (singer-songwriter) Ian Tyson. Tyson’s ‘Fifty Years Ago’ is a songwriting workshop in itself.”
But it was a songwriting workshop Figgs attended at the 2010 IWMA convention in Albuquerque that really touched the spurs to his Western music career.
“I went to that songwriting workshop, and that started me,” Figgs said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’ And then we were shoeing horses at that N Bar Ranch, I had a piece of paper and started writing things down.”
The IWMA grew out of a 1988 meeting of Western music performers in Las Vegas, Nev. It was originally called the Western Music Association, but this year, the organization’s 30th anniversary, the name was changed to the International Western Music Association to reflect the growing popularity of Western music and poetry. There are about 1,000 members in the IWMA. An average of 250 members attend the annual conventions.
“The (convention) has been everything to me,” Figgs said. “Everyone in the IWMA has been so welcoming, so encouraging. They are just good, good people.”
Figgs and his wife, Cathy, raise Black Angus, and some Red Angus, cattle – with a mix of dairy-cattle blood to produce big, fat calves – on their place at Lemitar, seven miles north of Socorro.
He has been shoeing his own horses and those of friends for longer than he can get a handle on, but he started shoeing full time in the ’90s and is now a certified journeyman farrier, the highest level recognized by the American Farrier’s Association.
All the way
He was born in Prescott, Ariz., and raised mostly in Arizona and California and some in Nevada, too. His father was a mechanic, who followed construction jobs, but Figgs, growing up in Western towns and working with horses, couldn’t help but turn to cowboying. His wife, Cathy, a Nevada native, is the daughter of a cowboy. She was working as a horsemanship instructor in Springerville, Ariz., when she and Doug met. They moved to Lemitar in the late ’80s to work for a horse ranch.
Figgs’ earliest musical influences were Southern rock groups such as The Marshall Tucker Band, The Allman Brothers Band and Lynrd Skynrd, but his puncher lifestyle prodded him into Western music and he started playing with a friend’s cowboy band in New Mexico towns.
After that, he started going to open mics and playing music around Socorro. Then he went to his first IWMA convention and the stampede was on. In 2011 he released the first of seven CDs.
Cathy Figgs attributes her husband’s rapid rise in Western music circles to the fact that not only is he a fine singer and musician, but that he also goes all the way with anything that he takes on and that he is writing and singing about the cowboy life he knows.
“Horses have been our family for 30 years,” she said. “We live that way.”
Like Figgs sings in “The Best Horse,” a song he wrote with Funke, “it’s all about the callouses and sweat.”