Beloved Western entertainer Dave Stamey always manages to reach his loyal audience—even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Charles M. Russell, Word Painter, a collection of the Montana cowboy artist’s correspondence, editor Brian Dippie reveals that Russell saved his highest praise for writers. Russell knew that their talent was a gift like his own.
“To have talent,” Russell observed, “is no credit to its owner. For what a man can’t help he should get neither credit nor blame. It’s not his fault.”
In the contemporary Western music niche, singer-songwriter Dave Stamey, another Montana son, unquestionably stands up to Russell’s level of blameless yet glorious writing talent. Described as the “Charlie Russell of Western music,” Stamey writes songs from the perspective of someone who has spent lifetime in the saddle as a cowboy, mule packer and dude ranch wrangler. His lyrics depict the realities of ranching in the Rocky Mountains, Nevada’s high desert and California’s Pacific Slope. Like Russell, Stamey is the “real deal.”
Verses of the West
One of the most popular and celebrated Western entertainers performing today, Stamey has received multiple awards from the Western Music Association, including entertainer of the year (seven times), male performer of the year (seven times) and songwriter of the year (five times).
With every album, Stamey brings another dozen of wordsmithed wonders. Known for his true-to-life visions of the West, his songs are like a faraway train whistle in the night, taking listeners into one of his new Western adventures. And his audiences attest that his songs come from authentic experience with a bit of romance added for good measure.
One of his most popular and requested songs reflects his respect for the viejo—the old ones—and of the mystery they muster. In his song “Spin That Pony,” he tells the story of an old Mexican cowboy who worked near Arroyo Grande, California, and had an incredible skill with horses that he quietly kept to himself and the horses he rode.
Old Mike Hernandez was a buena vaquero
Rode some good horses Californio style
Watched him for hours and he showed me a little
Of the old California he knew for awhile
Started young horses in Bosca te Ador
Unto the two reign the old Spanish spade
Brought them along with two hands that were gentle
Some fine reigning horses as ever were made
And he’d spin that pony hanging onto the reata—Lyrics from “Spin That Pony”
he hung from a rafter in the Willow Creek barn
And I watched and I wondered man how could he do that
Then he’d change direction and spin him some more
Round and round, spinnin’ and round
With the real, foot-in-the-stirrup life Stamey has lived, he has found no shortage of inspiration, especially when horses, mules, dogs or cattle are involved. He says he tries to keep his music very invitational and open for “civilians,” yet authentic enough for those who would know can recognize his knowledge.
“This music,” he says, “is a celebration of shared heritage—an appreciation of the West as both a place and state of mind. It helps bring the audience together, whether they know which end of the cow gets up first or not.”
In “Montana,” his highly requested ode to origins and life lessons, Stamey speaks of the indelible images that the work and chores of his own ranching childhood left in their wake.
When I was a kid the snow would drift high on the barn—Lyrics from “Montana”
Before daylight broke, I’d be out with a bucket on my arm
And the cattle would walk through the dark and the cold
With steam in their breaths and ice on their coats
The snow beneath my boots would glitter and squeak
Over the bones of the buffalo buried so deep
Stamey’s audience is so loyal that many of his songs have become personal anthems, and he can be hard-pressed to determine what encore song to leave out, simply because there are so many his audience loves and wants to hear. But it’s a safe bet that “The Vaquero Song” will usually be among his encore callbacks to the stage. It has that Stamey “something,” and he’s performed it at weddings, funerals, graduations and brandings alike. It holds in it the dream pictures of a world long gone—of horses that could operate with gossamer reins and capable stockmen, riding in the fog of early morning. It is a song of a time all its own.
My name is Juan Medina—Lyrics from “The Vaquero Song”
A vaquero once was I
Now I live in the air above the pepper trees
Where are all the cattle, that belonged to Captain Dana
They’re blown away like ashes in the California breeze
The Vaquero Song
A Pandemic Plan
To date, Stamey, with his wife, Melissa, has produced more than 14 albums, as well as scheduled many appearances and concerts around the West—until last spring. The COVID-19 pandemic put an end to live gatherings and performances for an extended period. For entertainers it was an especially tough hit. Even though he conducted several Zoom performances from his home patio in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, without the live shows he needed a financial solution.
In many cases, artists can quickly master a “Greatest Hits” album to generate sales. But Dave took it a step further. Embracing technology—and the fact that so few car and truck manufacturers are building them with CD players in the dash anymore—he created “The Dave Stamey Collection” for a very limited time.
“It’s my life’s work: 197 tracks, 13 albums on a limited-edition flash drive,” he explains.
It was a smart move, but even he was surprised when sales took off. And while it was at once a savvy marketing idea, it also proved to be a validation of the love Dave’s fans have for him and his music, especially since it would be safe to say that most of his fans have most of his albums on CD already. One of the songs in the collection that has become another one of many Stamey standards is further testament to the power of his writing in creating a story song that invites folks to come along for the ride in its depiction of an aspirational Western romance. “Come Ride With Me” is the ultimate invitation to every young cowgirl to ride away with her cowboy.
Come ride with me—Lyrics from “Come Ride With Me”
Time to saddle up n’ ride away
Is so much to see
don’t worry I know the trails I know the wayI caught a gentle horse
His eyes are big and brown
He’s ready to carry you the whole world round
Come ride with me, let’s ride away
Artist Charlie Russell called the ability to write well “good medicine.” Russell and Stamey would have gotten along just fine together.