Uniquely American tradition of ‘Singing Cowboys’ alive and well at Blazin’ M Ranch
Both have quite the reputation for their “Singing Cowboys.”
Blazin’ M Ranch
1875 Mabery Ranch Road,
Wednesday - Saturday, 5 p.m.: Blazin M Cowboys,
In Hollywood, “Singing Cowboys” represent one of the richest traditions of Tinseltown, first popularized on screen in the 1936 movie “The Singing Cowboy” starring Gene Autry. Along the way, actors such as Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and Arizona’s own Andy Devine had their own moment in the cinematic sun as “Singing Cowboys.”
Such tradition is just as rich in the Verde Valley where the Blazin’ M Ranch has centered its dining entertainment around Old West Singing Cowboy programming for nearly a quarter century.
In all, 17 different musicians and performers have taken the stage as part of the Blazin’ M troupe, including two of the Verde Valley’s most revered and loved musicians, the late Chuck Mabery and Danny Rhodes.
The current dean of local “Singing Cowboys” is Bill Bassett, who has taken the stage four nights a week at Blazin’ M for the past 12 years. For Bassett, being a singing cowboy is as much about perpetuating a uniquely American tradition as it is about being a professional entertainer.
“The entire Cowboy experience is uniquely American, there is a time-honored tradition and heritage that must be observed and respected,” said Bassett. “It’s a lot more than dressing up and slinging a guitar around.”
For two of the Verde Valley’s best-known musicians, Camp Verde’s Reno and Sheila McCormick, their years as Blazin’ M Singing Cowboys represent some of the best memories of their musical careers.
Blazin M Ranch List of Musical Cowboys & Cowgirls 1994-Present
Bill Hopkins-Lead Guitar-5 yrs.
Chuck Mabery-Vocals & Harmonica-16 yrs.
Paul Shilling Stand-up Bass -3 yrs.
Randy Shilling-Rhythm Guitar-5 yrs.
Dave Rice-Keyboard/Guitar-8 yrs.
Jerry Compton-Rhythm Guitar/ Steel Guitar-12 yrs.
Danny Rhodes-Lead Guitar-5 yrs.
Marie Rhines-Fiddle-2 yrs.
Reno McCormick-Rhythm Guitar/Fiddle/Mandolin-4 yrs.
Sheila McCormick- Stand-up Bass -4 yrs.
Doug Bartlett-Fiddle-1 yr.
Bob Morgan Lead Guitar3 yrs.
Jim DuFresne -Lead Guitar-8 yrs.
Bill Bassett- Guitar/ Steel Guitar/ Emcee-12yrs.-current cowboy
Jim Martin-Lead Guitar/Yodeler-7 yrs. current cowboy
Jeanne Martin- Bass Guitar/Yodeler-7 yrs. current cowboy
Tom Jepperson - Vocals-12 yrs. current cowboy
“We got to sing all those great old songs and meet people from all over the world,” said Reno. “My favorite moments we’re pre-show banter in front of the stage while folks had their dinner, being the ‘Best Biscuit Wrangler in the West,” and, of course, the Ghost Rider. I never tired of seeing that. I also loved when Dan Mabery filled in as Otis. He had me laughing from beginning to end.”
Added Sheila: “I particularly enjoyed just singing those old western songs. Always loved western music. Love the beautiful melodies, three-part harmonies, and lyrics that evoke the feeling of the Old West. Glad I got a chance to sing those songs with Reno and other wonderful musicians in that unique setting. I also really liked that it was such a cheerful place, people were encouraged to leave their troubles at the gate. And of course, the horse running around for the finale was always great!”
For Bassett, there is a specific mindset you must bring to work when you are a “Singing Cowboy.”
“Being a Singing Cowboy is all about attitude. Like the difference between a violin and a fiddle,” he said.
Bill Bassett - guitar, pedal steel guitar, current cowboy 13 years
Bands: Old Rose, 1972/1974, Pat Roberts and the Evergreen Drifters, the Susan Falconer Show, 1980/1984, the Orbiters and the Retros. Joined Blazin’ M Cowboys in 2005.
Recognition: The Evergreen Drifters were inducted into the Northwest Chapter of the Western Swing Society Hall of Fame.
Favorite Guitars I play: Taylor 414 acoustic and a custom-made MSA Pedal Steel Guitar made in 1975. For electric, Telecaster.
Favorite cowboy clothing: Wrangler Jeans style #13MWZ. Tony Lama or Justin cowboy boots. Or a pair of Acme rough outs is an essential. USA-made shirts if possible, H bar C, Rockmount, Roper, Pioneer. Pro tip: search for square dance apparel and thrift shops and yard sales.
Jim Martin - Lead Guitar/Yodeler-7 yrs. current cowboy
Bands: Martin Music Company, Flying J Wranglers, Z Bar Wranglers, Double D Wranglers, Triple C Cowboys.
Recognitions: Six times over the years Jim and his wife Jeanne Martin have been named "Harmony Yodeling Champions” of the Western Music Association - “Harmony Duo of the Year” (Western Music Assoc.)
Guitars: Taylor guitars
Favorite cowboy clothing:
Wrangler Jeans, Favorite shirt brand is Roper shirts, but finds Vintage and Retro shirts in consignment and thrift shops. Brown and black cowboy boots but nothing fancy. Cowboy hat is a custom silver belly hat by “Bronco Sue" hats of Alamogordo, N.M. Apache scarves and wild rags around the neck.
Jeanne Martin - Bass Guitar/Yodeler-7 yrs. current cowboy
Bands: Jeanne has been involved in music almost all her life singing in church and high school choir. Jeanne and her husband Jim were involved in a number of bands associated with the Chuckwagon Supper and Western Stage Show type venues. Jim & Jeanne played in “The Rockin’ M Wranglers”.
Recognitions: Jeanne was a “Female Vocalist of the Year” award winner in The Academy of Western Artists - and in 2016 was crowned Ms. Senior Arizona. Also named “Harmony Yodeling Champions” of the Western Music Association - “Harmony Duo of the Year” (Western Music Assoc.)
Guitars: Jeanne plays a Dean Acoustic/electric Bass and I loves it. Jeanne also has a 1960’s vintage Gibson EB2 bass which sounds delightful, but is too heavy to play for extended periods of time.
Favorite cowboy clothing: “My favorites are by Hondo Boots and are bone ostrich and the most comfortable boots I have ever worn I also love my red Tony Lamas.” Favorite cowboy hat is a old silver belly Stetson. Jeanne says she had collected clothing in the 28 years in the western music business, “a unique jacket or coat scarves, silver jewelry, and of course one of my many pairs of high top cowboy boots.”