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Hearts of the West

The Sons of the Pioneers include, from left, Ken Lattimore, Ricky Boen, Luther Nallie, Gary LeMaster, Randy Rudd and Mark Abbott.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gary LeMaster says western music may be hard to find on the radio, but whenever his band, Sons of the Pioneers, plays live, it generally picks up lots of new fans, many of them young.

“The radio is where people seem to get their ideas of what good music is, but once people hear western music live, they generally tend to like it quite a bit,” said LeMaster, the guitar player/singer for Sons of the Pioneers, an iconic band from among dozens of western bands slated to play during the Western Music Association 2011 Showcase and Awards Show.

The WMA conference Wednesday, Nov. 16, through Nov. 20, is a five-day celebration featuring dozens of musical groups touting the music and values of the American cowboy. They were exemplified by cowboys like Roy Rogers, whose legacy will be celebrated on the 100th anniversary of his birthday. The King of Cowboys died in 1998.

Most events, except the WMA showcase and awards show, will be held at the Marriott Uptown, 2101 Louisiana NE.

The event kicks off with a western swing dance featuring Syd Masters & The Swing Riders at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16.

The highlight will be the awards show at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the KiMo Theatre Downtown, featuring performances by the Bar D. Wranglers and R.W. Hampton, who is being inducted into the WMA Hall of Fame.

There will be a whole passel of western music groups performing during the event, including icons Sons of the Pioneers, who for more than 75 years have been performing music of the American West, singing about the land, the people and the Cowboy Way, LeMaster said. You might remember some of their signature songs: “Tumbling Tumbleweed,” “Cool Water” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” These songs aren’t about pickup trucks, beer drinking or women; they’re more about a western sunset, a cattle drive or independent heroes with a sense of chivalry, LeMaster said.

2011 Western Music Association Showcase and Awards Show
Featuring the Bar D Wranglers and R.W. Hampton
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 19
WHERE: KiMo Theatre, 423 W. Central
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $35 at For a complete schedule of events, visit

“The music is about the beauty of the West, the turmoil and strife of the cowboy,” LeMaster said. “It’s a very descriptive kind of song; in one of our songs you can just close your eyes and see the blue shadows of the trail under the light of the stars.”

“The songs talk about places where you can still find a blue sky, places like Montana, Wyoming or New Mexico,” LeMaster said. Sons of the Pioneers are scheduled to play during the Western Music Association Crisis Fund Benefit Dinner and Show from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

There’s another “sons” group, this one from New Mexico, who have made a name for themselves. Sons of the Rio Grande are slated to play at noon Thursday, and during the Friday Night Opry from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 18.

The Sons of the Rio Grande formed as a trio in 1996, playing western music spanning a century of the West, including original compositions from founding members Walen Mickey, Rob Croft and Larry Ruebush. In 2010, their album “The Westerner” included “Stay in the Saddle,” which copped an award in the Western Song Category of the New Mexico Music Awards.

“Western music is really a joyful genre with a lot of spirit and joy of life, and so it does appeal to younger people if they get a chance to hear it,” Mickey said.

“It’s often thought of as nostalgia music, but in fact there’s quite a bit of original music being written right now, and so not all of it is by any means old or nostalgia,” he added.

“I think people are attracted by the music because of its emphasis on self reliance, hard work, and honest and traditional values,” he said.

Cowboys say if you have something bothering you, the best way to feel better is to yodel, and the event will have one of the best yodelers around in Earl Gleason, who along with R.W. Hampton, is one of the few performers who lives the Cowboy Way by managing his own cattle ranch.

The Belen cowboy, who has been playing western music since 1945 when he got his first box guitar, played in 1956 with Glen Campbell, who invited him to play with him in California. Gleason turned him down because he had to care for his ranch.

“I asked what did he want me to do, herd 36 mama cows down Route 66?” he said, noting it was before Interstate 40 was built.

“I don’t know about whether yodeling makes you feel better, but I do know people enjoy hearing when I yodel,” said Gleason, who will be singing as part of the Friday Night Opry entertainment, and competing in a yodeling contest at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.

Gleason played for 12 years with a western band called The Country Watchmen. He’s also played as a guest artist with the Bar D Wranglers, who will be one of the show’s headliners.

For a complete schedule and list of performers, visit



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