“We didn’t have electricity and that meant we didn’t have T.V. We had darn poor radio too.
So that meant we did the strangest things at night … we talked to each other!”
– WADDIE MITCHELL, Cowboy Poet
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“I can’t ever remember ‘finding’ cowboy poetry, “ Waddie Mitchell says of the entertaining and enduring art of storytelling. “It was always there. The cowboys sure never called it poetry. I know I wouldn’t have liked it if they would have. Seems like an oxymoron, don’t it!?”
From his earliest days on the remote Nevada ranches where his father worked, Waddie was immersed in the cowboy way of entertaining, the art of spinnin’ tales in rhyme and meter that came to be called cowboy poetry, a Western tradition that is as rich as the lifestyle that gave birth to it. Within his stories, told in a voice that is timeless and familiar, are the common bonds we all share, moments both grand and commonplace, the humorous and the tragic, the life and death struggles and triumphs that we each recognize. And yet, Waddie presents his material with personal insights and the lessons learned during his life spent as a buckaroo.
“All the time I was growing up we had these old cowboys around,” he says. “When you live in close proximity like that with the same folks month after month, one of your duties is to entertain each other, and I suppose that’s where the whole tradition of cowboy poetry started. You find that if you have a rhyme and a meter to start that story, people will listen to it over and over again,” Waddie states in his down-to-earth description of its beginnings.
“When my imagination first got let out of the gate, it was from an old-time cowboy, with a story set to rhyme,” he says in his second recording from Warner Western, Lone Driftin’ Rider. By the age of 10, he was reciting poetry himself; at 16, he quit school to follow his heart and went to making his living as a cowboy.
“I’d never done anything else, never made money without horses or cows until I started telling cowboy poetry.” The father of five children, (“They’re all girls, except four of them!”) his goal is to one day buy his own ranch. “I’m hoping,” Waddie says, “for the opportunity to go broke on a ranch by myself instead of helping somebody else do it!”
There came a time though, which he relates in his poem Where To Go, when he had to choose between being a full-time cowboy (he managed a 36,000 acre ranch in Lee-Jiggs, Nevada) and the art form that he loved so much. In 1984, he helped organize the internationally recognized Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering and gave his first public performance. Although Waddie didn’t think anyone would be interested, (he thought it would be a pretty good party for the weekend) the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering was set for a cold, snowy weekend in January. This was one of the only times Waddie and his fellow cowboys were free from ranch duties. More than 2,000 people showed up, and Waddie was off and running.
Since then he has performed internationally for audiences from Los Angeles to New York, Zurich to Melbourne, and all points in between. With television appearances ranging from The Tonight Show (his neighbor took the first phoned invitation, drove 40 miles to deliver the message to the remotely based Waddie and returned with a “No Thanks” because it was calving time and he’d never heard of Johnny Carson), Larry King Live, Good Morning America, TNN, The History Channel, PBS, and BBC, Waddie has also been featured in People, Life, New York Times, USA Today, Fortune, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal and the Official Program for Super Bowl XXX, along with numerous other appearances, performances, articles and books. In 1994, Waddie founded the Working Ranch Cowboy Association with a mission of creating scholarships and crisis funds for working cowboys and their families. The well-recognized and highly respected WRCA now sanctions 22 regional rodeos throughout the West with the sold-out world championships held each November in Amarillo, TX.
His series of recordings for Warner Bros. Records and more recently for the Western Jubilee Recording Company have received critical acclaim. Waddie’s Western Jubilee Recordings are: Waddie Mitchell Live featuring Don Edwards as well as world class instrumentalists Rich O’Brien and Norman Blake and recorded live at the Western Jubilee Warehouse in Colorado Springs. A glowing review of Waddie Mitchell Live appeared in People, which concludes with “Bottom Line: Horse sense and humor from America’s Best Known Cowboy Poet.” This was followed by Prairie Portrait which features Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. In April, 2001, the Oklahoma City based Cowboy Hall of Fame / National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum presented Waddie with the coveted Wrangler Award for his participation in the Outstanding Traditional Western Album of the year.
The 2002 Cultural Olympiad commissioned Waddie Mitchell to write a commemorative poem. His offering, That No Quit Attitude, gained importance as the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games grew nearer. No Quit appeared in the Welcome To Salt Lake film, in schools and libraries, on Delta Airlines, the Olympic web site, at the Olympic Arts Festival, on Western Jubilee’s CD single and many publications, including the Official Souvenir Program of the 2002 Winter Games. Since, That No Quit Attitude, also titles Waddie’s newest Western Jubilee release that contains fourteen new original poems and thirteen original ‘Waddie-isms’. 2003 found him on stage at Carnegie Hall and producing Elko – A Cowboy’s Gathering. This Western Jubilee double disc features 40 Artists and salutes the gathering he co-founded 20 years prior. Along with a busy 2005 touring schedule, he was featured on TV, radio, print and personal appearances as the Review Journal newspaper’s official spokesperson for the 100 Year Celebration of Las Vegas, NV.