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Old January 20th, 2010, 01:44 AM
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cleusk cleusk is offline
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Default Gunfight Show Anecdote

There's an anecdote of the Texas Gunfight Show halfway through this article:

Dallas Morning News
December 2, 2001

Don Edwards remembers the day he first saw a cowboy. He was a young lad. He and his family were on a visit to relatives. One day, a 1946 Ford wood-paneled station wagon pulled up in front of the house next door."It had Arizona license plates on it," says Mr. Edwards. "This man got out and went up to Mrs. Briggs' front door. He had his hat on, and he was wearing boots and a plaid shirt and blue jeans with the cuffs turned up the way they wore them in that era. He was a sure 'nuff cowboy. I could tell that."

Mr. Edwards smiles. "It's funny that the first cowboy I ever saw wasn't out West. It was in Massachusetts."

Even before he saw a cowboy, he was nuts about them. "From my earliest times, I was eaten up with the cowboy deal," he says.

Like many kids growing up in the 1940s and '50s, he played cowboy with his friends and watched the Saturday B Westerns at the movie theater. But his fascination with cowboys went deeper.

He devoured Smoky, the Cowhorse, Sand, and The Drifting Cowboy, all written by Will James, the cowboy author/artist. "My parents gave me one of his books every year for Christmas," he says. "From Will James, I learned what a real cowboy was."

His mother tried to get him to wear shoes to school like the other boys did, but he insisted on cowboy boots.

His father - a former vaudeville magician and musician - bought him a Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar. Don began learning cowboy songs.

"I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I was 9 years old," says Mr. Edwards, whose career as a celebrated cowboy singer spans 40 years. "My mind was already set."

But he lived in New Jersey. Nobody could be a cowboy there, even in the bucolic countryside of little Boonton, where he and his two sisters were growing up. There were no wide open spaces in New Jersey. What cows were there had to be milked.

When he turned 16, Don Edwards quit school and headed for Texas.

The study in Mr. Edwards' country home near Weatherford is filled with memorabilia. There's a framed photograph of him with George W. and Laura Bush, taken after he had played for them at the Governor's Mansion in Austin.

There's another of Mr. Edwards with Ronald Reagan and Gene Autry and Texas cowboy singer and poet Red Steagall, with two Secret Service agents glowering in the background. There's a framed program from the World Championship Rodeo with Roy Rogers' photograph on the cover. It's autographed, "Roy Rogers and Trigger."

Over Mr. Edwards' huge desk hangs the framed original manuscript of the classic Western song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," written by Bob Nolan in 1932.

A glass bookcase contains early editions of books by Will James and other Western writers. And on another shelf stands a collection of 78-rpm record albums that belonged to his dad.

"Dad wasn't in the big time like Milton Berle and Bob Hope," Mr. Edwards says. "He was on the rural, small-town circuit, all through New Jersey, New England. Besides his magic and his music, Dad was an actor in plays. He did a lot of summer stock.

"By the time I was old enough to appreciate what he was doing, he quit all that. He thought show business was a frivolous way to make a living. So, being a responsible father, he just gave it up when we kids came along. But sometimes he would play the grange hall on weekends."

Displayed on a shelf near his father's albums are the awards Mr. Edwards has won for his recordings of traditional cowboy songs: the Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award for 1992 and 1996; the Indie Award for Traditional Album for 1998; the Western Music Association Artist of the Year Award for 1997 and 1998.

"Traditional cowboy music is basically a part of folk music," Mr. Edwards says.

"It's pretty much songs that were collected from among cowboys. When I say 'cowboys,' I mean working cowboys, not movie cowboys."

Not that he has anything against movie cowboys. Across the room from his awards, another framed photograph stands on a bookcase. It's of Mr. Edwards and his wife, Kathy, and Robert Redford. It was taken in Montana in 1997, when Mr. Redford was directing and starring in The Horse Whisperer. Mr. Edwards plays the part of Smokey in the movie. Smokey is a singing cowboy.

"Redford was introduced to my music by a fellow named Patrick Markey, who produced A River Runs Through It with him," Mr. Edwards says. "So one day my agent called me and told me Redford wanted me to read for the part of Smokey. I had never been in a motion picture in my life. I had never thought of trying to act.

"I thought I would be going to one of those cattle-call auditions. Big names in Nashville were pursuing that part with a vengeance. I read for the thing. They said, 'We'll call you.' I said, 'Yeah, sure,' and never gave it another thought.

"Then one day the phone rang and they said, 'Bob wants you to play the part of Smokey.' It turned out that I was the only guy they auditioned for it. Redford had already made up his mind.

"I kept calling him 'Mr. Redford.'

"He kept telling me, 'It's 'Bob.'"

Mr. Edwards never worked on a ranch for wages. "When I first came down to Texas, I worked for nothing, just to be a part of it," he says.

He got a job with Fort Worth Pipe and Supply, hauling oil field stuff. This got him onto a lot of ranches. "Later on, I'd go back and help them gather cattle and brand them or ship them. I'd get to work with cowboys. But I was just passing through the lifestyle. I wasn't born into it. I wished I had been born into it."

When he wasn't hauling oil field pipe, he played street corners and bars with his guitar and banjo, singing the cowboy folk classics: "Little Joe the Wrangler," "The Streets of Laredo," "When the Work's All Done This Fall."

Then, in 1960, he saw an ad in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News. A new amusement park called Six Flags Over Texas was auditioning entertainers.

"They wanted somebody to sing in the Texas section of the park," Mr. Edwards says. He answered the ad. "I sang 'Cattle Call' and 'The Strawberry Roan.' Then they asked me if I knew how to use a gun. I had never handled a six-shooter, but I said, 'Yeah. Of course.' So, lo and behold, I got the job.

"The major thing at Six Flags now is the rides, but back then it was the live shows," he says.

"I would get out there and sing a couple of cowboy songs, then me and the other guys would get in a gunfight. We did that gunfight several times a day. They brought stunt people in from Hollywood to show us how to do it.

"That's how my career began. I stayed at Six Flags until 1965 or '66."

In 1964, he cut his first 45 rpm record, "The Young Ranger," at a studio in Dallas. It was a gunfighter ballad, a rewrite of a folk song called "The Dying Ranger."

"I took my records around in my little truck when I was driving for Fort Worth Pipe and Supply," he says.

"I was in every oil patch in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska. Every time I would see a radio station tower, I would drive over and introduce myself. I was selling a lot of records off the back of my pickup."

Then he took his guitar to Nashville, hoping for the big time. He wasted a few years there and didn't make an impression. "I didn't like commercial country music, and they didn't like cowboy songs," he says.

So he came home to Fort Worth and got a gig playing at a bar called Poker Flat and later at the White Elephant Saloon in the Stockyards district.

He met Kathy Davis, who also worked at the White Elephant. They've been married for 23 years now and own an interest in the saloon.

Mr. Edwards has recorded 15 albums over the years. His latest, released earlier this year, is Kin to the Wind: Memories of Marty Robbins. It's gunfighter ballads and other songs Marty used to sing. Mr. Edwards' smooth baritone sounds eerily like him.

After a stint with Warner Brothers, Mr. Edwards records for Western Jubilee Recording Co. now. It's an independent label that's owned by him and the other musicians who record on it.

And he entertains at colleges and universities and cowboy and folk gatherings all over the country. Wherever an audience gathers for the music of the old West.

"It's a niche market," he says. "Nobody's going to get rich. I do it for the love of it. I believe in kind of a destiny thing. I think you're steered in a lot of ways. I've gone through life and been on the verge of hell and every place else and up and down and all around. But there's a feeling I get sometimes that says, 'Yeah, I'm supposed to be here.'"
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