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Photo Credit: Bill Watts

Wylie & the Wild West

cowboy and western music Conrad, Montana
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Photo Credit: Bill Watts
Photo Credit: Bill Watts

While many musicians sleep in after late-night shows, world-class yodeler and cowboy singer Wylie Gustafson rises before dawn most mornings. Despite his success as one of America’s most popular western entertainers, Wylie and his hard-working family still get up every day at 5:30 to tend their livestock. Balancing the lives of a working rancher and a working musician feels “like a blessing,” he says. “The connection between ranching and my music is extremely close. Most of my songs are born out of the environment where I live and punch cattle.”

Born in Big Sky Country in Conrad, Montana, Wylie Gustafson is a fourth-generation rancher and cutting-horse enthusiast. He learned how to sing and train horses from his father, R.W. “Rib” Gustafson, who was a veterinarian as well as a rancher. Rib inspired Wylie to embrace the family tradition of “High Plains” yodeling, a distinctive brand of cowboy singing that can be traced to Rib’s older sister, a competitive skier, who acquired an instructional yodeling tape from the Austrian Olympic team in the 1930s; the family adapted the virtuosic Alpine vocal flourishes to life on the Plains. After a teenage stint as bassist in his brother’s rock band, Wylie spent the late 1980s in Los Angeles, where he founded Wylie & the Wild West and captivated metropolitan music fans with “music baptized with a hardy dose of trail dust and horse hair.” Even after he returned to Montana and to ranching, his fame in L.A.’s music scene made him the go-to yodeler when a craze for the art form hit commercial advertising in the early 1990s—it’s his distinctive “ya-hoo-hoo!” you hear in Yahoo!’s famous yodel advertising campaign.

While his music draws from the traditions laid down by Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard, Gustafson expands the cowboy genre by incorporating influences from rock and roll and bringing a rollicking, rockabilly flair to his performances. Wylie & the Wild West have played everywhere from EuroDisney to the Grand Ole Opry, where they’ve appeared over 50 times. Staying true to his ranching roots, Gustafson performs regularly at events like the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, but he also has tours of China and Japan under his belt. And speaking of his belt, he came by that big silver buckle the hard way: he’s earned many regional and national titles on his cutting horse, Whiskey, including that of 2005 National Cutting Horse Association Western National Finals Champion, and in 2020, Wylie joined his father in the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame. After 23 stellar albums, his music awards are many as well; he’s particularly proud of having received the National Cowboy Museum’s Wrangler Heritage Award, which “honors individuals who have made significant contributions to Western heritage through creative works … that share the great stories of the American West.” 

Joining Wylie in Salisbury are John Sporman on bass guitar, Tim Lashley on drums, and Clayton Parsons on guitar and steel guitar.

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