Check out Graham's other articles and interviews

 Western Music Association 
Preserving the heritage and music of the American West

by Graham Lees



The 21st Annual Western Music Association Showcase and Awards Show took place over November 18th – 22nd 2009 at the Marriott Hotel, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was my second time at this event, the first being in 2006.

I’ve been visiting the USA annually since 2000 and have made many good friends in the Western Jim Anderson with Graham at the WRCAand Western Swing music scene. When I decided to attend this year’s event, my good friend Jim Anderson (Palo Duro Trio) suggested that I should travel over a week earlier as the Working Ranch Rodeo finals were taking place that week in Amarillo, Texas. The Working Ranch Cowboy Association World Championship Ranch Rodeo took place over November 12 - 15th 2009 at Amarillo Civic Center. The foundation has been helping people for 13 years including scholarships providing school funding support for Working Ranch Cowboys and their children with 27 Students currently in their program. The Wednesday kicked it all off with a performance by cowboy poet and humorist Baxter Black giving a highly entertaining performance in the Heritage Room during the evening. Along with the Ranch Rodeo competition taking place in the main arena, showcases took place with performances from western Joe Baker and Graham in the bar at WMA eventsingers and cowboy poets in the Heritage Room along with several rooms of exhibits and trade stands selling a multitude of cowboy trappings. During the four days the World Famous Budweiser Clydesdales gave a thrilling demonstration of the brewery day wagons that delivered the beer in years gone by. Once all eight horses are hitched to the famous red beer wagon, the driver begins to adjust the reins. Driving the 12 tons of wagon and horses requires strength, experience and stamina. The 40 pounds of reins the driver holds, plus the tension on the reins, equals 75 pounds.

The rodeo finals concluded on the Sunday with an award presentation taking place during the evening. The group Palo Duro consisting of Jim and Cody Anderson and fiddle player Teresa Stephens has been playing this celebrated event for several years and have become fondly known as the unofficial resident band for the WRCA rodeo finals. Jim and Cody also opened Cowboy Gelato an ice-cream parlour and restaurant (featuring Italian gelato ice-cream and cowboy cuisine) Graham in the Swap Shopduring the summer of 2009 on 6th Avenue which is part of the historic Route 66 in Amarillo and has already garnered rave reviews.

The Wednesday following saw me travelling back to Albuquerque with singer and radio D.J. Judy James and her friend Pam who were travelling through Amarillo on their way to the WMA event and graciously offered to give me a ride.

Wednesday was essentially a day to set everything up and check into your hotel, though Donnie Blanz ran a workshop for Recording, Producing and Packaging your own CD. Thursday started the showcases off on three stages giving artists a chance to show just what a grand array of talent there is within the WMA. Thursday evening also saw the Crises Fund Benefit Dinner & Show featuring the Diamond W Wranglers.

Over the four days Shannon Wrango of Kansas Saddlery ran the Swap Shop along with helpers Betty Carter, Jean Prescott, Joyce Woodson and Judi Anderson. They did a “sterling job” as performers and fans brought in cloths and musical items for sale. A portion of the money realised was donated to the WMA with over $950 being raised for the association.

Friday started with workshops “Are You getting Paid For Your Music” followed by “Soundscan Listing & Bar Coding”. I sat in on the harmonica workshop ran by Garry Allegretto who gave basic instruction to beginners who wanted to start Graham and Shannon Wrango at the WMA Dinnerplaying campfire harmonica. Gary was nominated for the WMA “Best Instrumentalist” at the Awards and is also under consideration for two Grammy Awards ,“Best Traditional Folk Album” and “Best Contemporary Blues Album”. Garry runs Harmonikids, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing harmonicas & the joy of music to special needs children. The program gives harmonicas to children with a wide range of physical or emotional disadvantages and teaches them to play simple songs through easy instruction and gentle encouragement.

I had to cut the workshop a little early as I was to sit on the D.J. Panel Workshop organised by New Mexico’s. Joe Baker. The panel consisted of Joe Baker, Rick Huff, Barbara Richhart, Tamara Boatright, Ralph Hampton, Totsie Slover, Dallas McCord and myself.

This workshop drew a good crowd with artists eager to see how best to obtain radio airtime for their music. Much was said regarding PRS and royalties for airplay and the inclusion of the encoding of information (such as the songwriter details etc) into the CD itself.

Gary Allegretto running his harmonica workshopThere were plenty of showcases to keep everyone happy throughout the day on all three stages. Three artists did three numbers over a fifty minute period each hour from 1.00pm until 4.50pm. So many great bands and artists to see, it was impossible to catch everyone. Friday evening continued with a Chuckwagon Dinner & Opry performance hosted by Marvin & Theresa O’Dell introducing a horde of entertainers performing for the large crowd assembled.

Saturday morning got underway with the member’s Annual General Meeting. During the morning the Yodeling and Harmony contests took place with winners in both categories receiving certificates. Showcases started at 11.00am running through until 4.50pm. At 7pm the WMA Award Show took place presided over by WMA President Jon Messenger. The list of winners below all received a handsome trophy. Winner of the Female and Male Performer of The Year categories also received a Taylor guitar.

Entertainer of the Year Dave Stamey

Male Performer of the Year Bill Barwick

Female Performer of the Year Juni Fisher

Songwriter of the Year Marvin O’Dell

Song of the Year Jesus & Roy - Marvin O'Dell

Traditional Duo/Group Sons Of The San Joaquin

Traditional Album of the Year Gone For Colorado - Juni Fisher

Western Swing Duo/Group Asleep At The Wheel

Western Swing Album of the Year Hang-N-Rattle - Wylie & The Wild West

Instrumentalist of the Year Curly Musgrave

Crescendo Award Horse Crazy

Radio Station of the Year Ralph's Back Porch

Radio DJ of the Year Barbara Richhart

Male Poet of the Year Waddie Mitchell

Female Poet of the Year Doris Daley

Best Collaboration The Mourning Dove - Les Buffham & Judy Coder

Cowboy Poetry CD of the Year Beneath A Western Sky - Doris Daley

Cowboy Poetry Book of the Year Trail Mix - Diane Tribitt

President’s Award Silver Screen Cowboy Project

Sunday brought the 2009, 21st Annual WMA Awards Show and Showcase to a close with a Cowboy Church. There were many comments Graham with friends Betty and Doug Cartermade as to the smooth running and enjoyment of the four-day event. I was thrilled to renew old acquaintances and meet many new artists along with people who I’ve only had contact with via email or who had sent their products for inclusion in my radio shows in England. Joe Baker had set-up a box for each D.J attending, so that artists could leave their CDs to be played at the various radio stations. I will certainly be introducing new artists to my listeners over the coming months.

A sad note cast over this year’s event was that singer/songwriter Curly Musgrave had been suffering for some weeks with abscesses on the brain and was unable to attend, as was his musical partner Belinda Gail (who both sit on the board of directors). As I write this; the news is that Curly has been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour and all thoughts are with Curly and his family.

Just to close I’d like to thank my friends Ann & Jim Anderson (Amarillo Texas) and Betty & Doug Carter (Albuquerque) for their kindness and hospitality during my stay in the USA. Look forward to seeing everyone again soon!!!!

Postscript December 2009:  Sadly Curly passed away at the weekend of 12-13 December 2009.

Keep Riding High……Graham Lees
Nov 2009