Cowboy shoots lyrics from the heart, not the hip
October 17, 2008
In the introduction to the song "Keep It Simple" on the live album Camel Rock, Chuck Pyle describes what he calls his "committee" his inner critics. He tells the audience, "You might’ve noticed I entered the room single file tonight," and goes on to describe the song as talking blues "an ancient form of rap," he quips.
Pyle’s stories, sly humor and earnestness in his live performances have made his appearances for fans a cannot-miss event. He will be playing a show tonight, but chances are likely that you’re out of luck seeing that the home concert maxes out at about 70 people. Pyle is also leading a songwriting workshop on Sunday from 1 until 4 p.m. For information and directions to either event, contact Rebecca Eaton at (435) 640-7829 or submit guest information to http://www.mountaintownstages.com
For those unfamiliar with Pyle, his songs are "Western-flavored," he says but aren’t about getting’ tanked, makin’ love or pickin’ fights. He’s not the "drink beer and raise hell kind of cowboy," he says. Pyle instead takes a more thoughtful approach when writing lyrics and composing melodies it’s as if a Confucian monk got dropped off in the West with a guitar. His musical stylings prompted a weekly newspaper in Boulder, Colo., to dub him as the "Zen Cowboy." It’s a moniker he loves and happily embraces.
He describes his song lyrics as more intellectually challenging than other country songs that are thrown together with rhymes. "I never have tolerated bad lyrics," Pyle says.
He admits he sets his standards for songwriting pretty high; his influences include the likes of Paul Simon, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. "All the old guys the old writers," he says.
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Pyle’s songwriting workshop may not make aspiring musicians Grammy-award winners overnight, but it may help put them on the right path. The workshop, geared toward songwriters of all levels, is more than a lecture on the "ABCs" of songwriting, Pyle says. "It’s more of an exam of people’s songs."
"In my songwriting, music doesn’t necessarily come first," Pyle says, "But it’s essential that it be a song and that the meter of the lyrics fall very rhythmically on the notes of the song."
Originally from Iowa, the "Land of the Bland," he says, Pyle moved to Colorado in the mid-’60s because his dream was to raise horses although he never actually did.
"If the world ends," he jokes, "I’m going back [to Iowa] because everything happens 20 years later."
Music is something that happened along the way. Every time he would get a straight job, people would ask him to play music, whether it was for a party or as a fill-in for someone else. Soon, he started making more money playing one night than in an entire week of "real" work. He eventually quit a surveyor job to build up his repertoire.
Nearly 40 years of performing later, Pyle has had his songs covered by the likes of John Denver, Chris LeDoux and Jerry Jeff Walker. He’s also performed for Bill and Melinda Gates at their home in Seattle. Over the years, he’s developed his own signature fingerstyle. It’s too technical to try to describe, he says. It’s one of those things you’ll need to see him do live to understand. He says musicians like Paul Simon, Bruce Cockburn, Guy Van Duser and Chet Atkins have influenced his playing style. "When you hear them," he says, "their style is unmistakable."
While Pyle may seem like a contradiction in terms, he’s got a sound and appeal that even the most rugged cowboy soul can appreciate.
Pyle’s show tonight is part of the Mountain Town Stages home concert series.
The nonprofit organization will have its final fundraiser of the year next Saturday, Oct. 25. The "Main Street Music Crawl" starts at 7 p.m. and kicks off at the Star Bar. Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased at Orions Music or http://www.mountaintownstages.com.