On Wednesday nights Tom Carter, Leonard Coulson and I get together to play a few old-time tunes. When it came up that I was about to be honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Utah’s College of Humanities, Leonard gave me a level look and asked sarcastically, “Distinguished for what?” At that moment there wasn’t a thing in the world that came to mind. In the pause, Tom remembered a story I told him from my graduation at the University of Utah forty years ago. I had forgotten the incident but it all came back clearly. I was part of a sea of black gowns at the University Stadium. I remember feeling like a fly among a thousand other black flies scurrying across the stage to receive a diploma. As I walked past the president of the University, I overheard his whispered exclamation to his wife when he spied me: “That’s a big one!”
At that moment I wondered if I would ever distinguish myself for more than being a super sized human. Would I be able to find meaningful work and still make a living? Would I ever find love in my life? These were the questions that burned in my mind. So, these many years later I do feel distinguished in that I have found both in my life, Love and meaningful work.
It was Sunday evening in the little village of Mosqero, New Mexico. The old colonial Catholic Rectory was full of ranchers, cowboys, and rural people from as far away as Wyoming. Everyone had brought covered dishes of aromatic treats to share, and wine was flowing in anticipation of a concert of western songs and stories.
I didn’t know many people and I was a bit nervous as I felt expectations rise for the night’s entertainment, so I stepped outside in the early spring air. As I wandered around the building I encountered a young man who was also inspecting the place. We greeted and he asked, “Are you from Santa Fe?” I said no, I live in Salt Lake City. He looked down at the turquoise on my wrist and said, “It’s the bracelet.” Even through my own nervousness, I sensed troubles in this young man I’ll never know.
During the second half of the concert, I sang “Soldiers’ Heart,” a song I wrote in tribute to Veterans. It takes its title from the Civil War term for those who suffered Post Traumatic Shock Disorder (PTSD). As I sang, I could sense that there were those in the room who heard this song as I meant it, a personal message from me to them, a way of saying thanks but also a shared prayer of hope.
After the concert the young man I’d met earlier came up and pressed his hand into mine. He blurted out, “I, I want you to know that when you sang that song, I was standing at the back and I stood at full attention through the whole thing. Thank you.” He demonstrated the posture of standing at full military attention and then shook my hand again. “Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ve been there.” Altogether, he took my hand to shake it four times in our few moments together.
Later, as we were sitting around with our dear friends and hosts, the Crews family, I told them how moved I was by this young man and the intensity and immediacy of his response. I quoted a line from the song: “And though his war has ended, the battle rages on.”
Bella, the lovely teenage granddaughter of our host, told us that this same young man came up to her as she was selling our CD’s and books and asked her where she was from. She told him her home was in Jackson, Wyoming. He replied, “Oh that’s where Dick Cheney is from, Wyoming. He is a true patriot.”
The next morning, Monday, the Rush Limbaugh Show was broadcast to millions of people across the country. I was not tuned in. At the time we were touring the Crews Ranch – talking grass, calf weights, and looking at their incredible corral system designed by Temple Grandin. I learned later that the guest host of the radio show had interviewed a disgruntled cowboy poet and together they trashed the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Western Folklife Center and me personally for over ten minutes. A couple days later, when I finally heard the claims and incendiary commentary, it almost seemed laughable; it was so full of mistruth and outright lies. I wondered how to respond to something like this without being ensnared in the muck of it all. I know the power and privilege of broadcasting as we have contributed over a hundred stories on NPR. Part of that privilege as a journalist is the duty to conduct fact checks and find credible sources. In the end, I decided that the portion of Rush Limbaugh’s audience that actually takes everything said on the show as gospel already has their minds made up, and that people who know me or have seen the beauty of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering over the years as a force for good in rural America, know us by our acts rather than by idle talk.
What I know for sure is this: a young man took my hand to bind his life with my song. I may never understand what all he has been through. He may never understand why I wear a bracelet or question Dick Cheney’s brand of patriotism. But because we met and took time to really listen to each other, way out in northeastern New Mexico, I can honor him and he can stand at full attention, and we are together in that moment.
We are just back from performances in Flagstaff AZ, Corrales, and Mosquero, NM. Teresa wowed them with stories and I got to sing western songs, traditional and original.
In Flagstaff we performed in the historic Weatherford Hotel in the Zane Grey Ballroom. it was a wild night in Flagstaff, first Friday, which means people go crazy on the street in the name of art. We had a blast with our pals Dan, Kate and Tony who helped us put it together.
On Saturday we performed at Jim and Ann Jones lovely Spanish style home in Corrales, just north of Albuquerque. Jim is a fine cowboy singer in his own right and we definitely made some new friends. Here is what Jim said of the concert, "“With a wide assortment of traditional cowboy songs, stories, contemporary original compositions and poetry, Hal Cannon and Teresa Jordan captivated the audience at the Corrales Concert Under the Stars. Folks were spellbound as they spun their tales of the West…old and new. Linda Bolton, board member and producer of the Albuquerque Folk Festival, said, ‘Teresa and Hal were just delightful. Hope they come through here again before long.’ The only complaint was that the evening ended too soon.”
We drove on Sunday to the northeastern corner of the state where our old friends Jack and Tuda Crews operate on Tuda's family ranch of seven generations. This is old style New Mexico Hispanic ranch country. The Crews' have recently restored a beautiful Colonial style Catholic Rectory in Mosquero. This wonderful two story building filled with ranching neighbors, cowboys from places like the famous Bell Ranch and even some good friends who made the journey from Wyoming where Teresa's family ranched for generations. We can't say enough about how gratifying it is to perform our western outback stories and songs to the folks who live the life. Its an honor.
This touring together in performance could get addictive.
We launched my new CD at the State Room in Salt Lake City this past Saturday to a nearly full house of around 250 friendly people. The first half of the show included the screening of a short film Taki Telonidis and I produced for the Western Folklife Center, "Why the Cowboy Sings," The stage then went to some wonderful stories from the ranch told by my beloved, Teresa Jordan. She even recounted a story from her amazing blog, A Year of Living Virtuously, Weekends Off
I also had a chance to sing a couple of ancient cowboy songs and Flavia Cerviño-Wood played a violin solo that brought back some spirits.
The second half of the show brought most of the musicians from the album on stage including Phillip Bimstein, Charlotte Bell, Harold Carr, Kate MacLeod, Flavia again, Anke Summerhill, Rex Flinner and Cathy Foy. By the end of the concert we all had such a feeling of unity with the audience. It was a great thrill to have all these people along with the musicians to launch my music out to sea. Where this little silver disk will drift none of us knows. If you see it along the way, give it a shove in a good direction. -- Hal
Good February to you,
The days are getting longer and there's excitement in our house. The dog, me, and Teresa, to a lesser extent, are itching to howl at the moon. Why?
The big news is that my CD is done. I'm told its quite listenable. You can order it HERE!
I want to thank all of you for helping me name the CD. My Mom and Dad get the prize. The title is simple, direct, and you can only use it once in your lifetime for a record.
If you are anywhere near Salt Lake City on February 12, I hope, hope you will come to my CD release party where I'll sing the new songs, my friends will play lovely music in accompaniment, and the best surprise is that Teresa Jordan, my lovely wife, will tell a few of her wonderful stories from the ranch. You can learn more about the concert and buy tickets HERE.
Any other news? Briefly, just had a fabulous National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Taki Telonidis and I have one of our What's in a Song stories on NPR this Sunday on the morning news, nationwide. You can hear Ian Tyson telling how he came to write "Four Strong Winds," after hearing Bob Dylan sing "Blowin' In the Wind." Oh, one more thing, our TV show Red Rock Rondo just won best Entertainment Show of the year from the national organization for Public TV stations, NETA.
Hi Friends, Many folks have been asking why I squandered all the creative energy around the titling of my new CD. How dare you just call it "Hal Cannon?" So, Here are my three reasons for doing what I did.
1. You only get to call one CD by your plain old name once then you have to move on.
2. All my creative friends can continue making fun of me and my name forever without settling on just one way to mock me.
3. Though my parents are gone I'd sort of like to honor them for coming up with the CD title.
My friends cannot not help themselves in assisting me in naming my new CD. There just so many things you can do with Hal. Its the first syllable of a scary holiday, bad breath, or a happy and peaceful period. Then there's Cannon and the big guns of yore. A few more dribbled in since my last post. I have decided on a title now and I fear my creative friends are going to be disappointed. A hint: you can only name an album by this title once in your career.
Halarious - fae
Shot with a Cannon, Paco Hal’s Canon, Hal of a Note (surprised to not see this one) Hal’s Canion - Willie Smyth"Hal of a good time.", "Hal of a Good Tune", " Just for the Hal of it" "Hark The Harold Cannons, Cowboy Christmas", " Harry and the Cannon Balls", "New Tunes for Old Guys" or "An Old Guys New Tunes" ,"Tunes for the Taking" " Fingers Don't Frail Me Now, And other Banjo Favorites", "Smoking Cannon", "The Guns of Halverone" " Hal-lelujah" or "Hal-lelujah Cannon", "Hals Bells", "Go Straight To Hal"," To Hal and Back", "Hal'in at The Moon"(this is a good one) and two more "My Pal Hal", and "Tin Pan Hallie" - Cory Webster
Hal or Highwater- Scot Wilburn
Can an Will - Nick SpitzerDeck the Hal, Loose Cannon Shoots Self in Banjo - Mark Ross
Hal-a-lula-, or Halayula- Hugh Coltharp
Songs for Ramona - Judith F. PachelHal's Cannon - Andy Wilkinson (I'd always imagined I could open a chain restaurant called "Cannon's Taco Bell")
Cannon Fodder - Lisa and Waddie like this oneCannon Canon - from Dave Stanley but endorsed by John Greene “Hal No! We Won’t Go” - Jim McNutt
"Hal, O damn...back again" - Buzzy Vick“Serious about rock music” or “I ain’t takin’ nothin’ for granite” - Tom Hampson
hal c’on days- Michael Carabetta
Hal Canyon - Bruce Hucko (see above)
Cannontikkle - Steve Bringhurst
Halacious - Stephen Goldsmith like this one
Cannonization - Robert Newman
Hal Cannon and the Son's of Bishops - Gary McMahan
The joy of creative friends is that you never know what they will come up with. In my last letter, I asked for suggestions for a title to my new CD. Below are just a few I received. In the end, the title may not play off my name--such an easy target! But these inspired me and also put a smile on my face. Thanks!
I wanted to let you know that you can now check out a sample song on my website:www.Okehdokee.com. If you'd like, you can pre-order a CD--it's not too late for Christmas! You can also read about the launch concerts: Wednesday, January 26 at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada; and Saturday, February 12, at the State Room in Salt Lake City.
Have a lovely holiday,
Just a few of your ideas for album titles:
Nick Spitzer - "Come Hal or Highwater," "What the Hal?" "Cannonical," "Hal Cannon: Keep Your Powder Dry," "Halacious"
Alex Swaney - "Cannon Bawls"
Steve Zeitlin - "Hal on the Range"
Stan Howe - "Hal Cannon and the Jack Mormon Two-fer-a-Nickle Choir"
Allen Dodworth - "Original Sins"
Bob Whitney "Cannon's Blazing"
Ann George, "Firecracker Cannon"
Dave Stanley, "The Cannon Canon"
Dave Bourne "Original Cannon Fodder," "Cannonade," "Rid'n With Hal"
Peter Church - "Life's Fortune"
This weekend, NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday will air our story on John Lomax and the influence of black cowboys on the original cowboy songs he collected a hundred years ago. It's an interesting feature that required extensive research and breaks new ground. I have listed details below. The next piece of news is that I have just completed my first album of original songs. I had the great privilege of working with Jim Rooney, who has produced such artists as Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Iris DeMent, Don Edwards and Paul Zarzyski. The fabulous musicians of Red Rock Rondo and a few other great friends and players joined in. Phillip Bimstein arranged several of the songs.
Now Jim Rooney is taking the recordings to Nashville to be mastered and Willy Matthews is designing the CD cover. The record will be out in time for two premieres, one on Wednesday, January 26 at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, and the second in Salt Lake City the weekend of February 11-12. I will keep you posted on specific details. We are having a heck of a time coming up with a title for the CD. I'd love a few ideas from my creative friends out there. Have a beautiful holiday,Hal CannonJohn Lomax and the Cowboy Blues On the 100th anniversary of John Lomax's famous book Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads,we explore the contribution of African Americans to cowboy life and music. The great trail drives of the 1870's came on the heels of the Civil War, and a significant number of the cowboys working those cattle were freed slaves who brought their musical traditions with them. Those traditions mingled with other music of the times as men from a variety of backgrounds converged on the trails to deliver beef to a hungry nation.
Out of their efforts was born the iconic cowboy...whose image and music came to define us as Americans. Yet, as the mythic cowboy grew in stature, the real cowboy in all his diversity was slowly cropped out of the picture...only to be rediscovered in recent years.
Our story airs this Sunday, December 5th, on NPR's Weekend Edition. It is slated to run near the end of the two-hour news show. The problem is, stations can run the show when they see fit, so check with your local station for air times. If you prefer, you can always go to our website the day after and hear it on the internet.