Sometimes you have to create your own mythology, and Cowboy Dave Band frontman Dave Wilson knows how to do it with droll panache.
Grab a copy of Saddle Up, Pal, the band's 2009 debut EP, and give a listen to the "Cowboy Dave Theme Song." Graced by the baritone twang of an electric guitar that echoes Johnny Cash's "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and Steve Earle's "Guitar Town," the song celebrates the heroic deeds of its title character and includes a mid-song skit in which all parts are voiced by Legendary Shack Shakers frontman J.D. Wilkes (including the classic Dudley Do-Right dialogue, "You must pay the rent ... I can't pay the rent ... You MUST pay the rent ...").
So is Wilson surprised that more musicians don't have theme songs?
"Well yeah, for sure, to me it seems obvious, right?" says the recent Colorado Springs arrival, who'd previously fronted Lincoln, Neb., cowpunk purveyors FortyTwenty. "My opinion is that everyone in life needs a theme song. But it is kind of embarrassing to have to write your own. I've approached many other people to write me a theme song, but no one else was up for the task."
Home on the range
After the members of FortyTwenty parted ways, Wilson and his wife started looking for a new stomping ground. "When you're in Nebraska, Colorado is where you come for a long weekend vacation," says the musician, who rolled into town a year-and-a-half ago and quickly assembled a new band that includes former members of the Railbenders, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and the Honky Tonk Hangovers.
The Cowboy Dave Band — with Glenn Taylor on pedal steel, Scott Johnson on upright bass, Andy Walters on drums, and Adam Stern on electric guitar — made its local debut at the Crystola Roadhouse, but has since focused on playing gigs around the Denver area, where the rest of the band members all live. And while Wilson admits that "the Front Range's newest hard-swingin' honky-tonk group" may still be a little too alt-country for those who'd rather line-dance to Kenny Chesney hits, the sound is still more traditional than what he played in FortyTwenty.
"There was kind of a yin and yang between my straight-laced classic country and the drummer and upright [bass] player, who had long played in punk bands together," says Wilson of the cowbilly band whose slogans ("Purveyors of Fine Music," "So Country, It'll Make You Puke") were similarly schizophrenic. "It would be me with my cowboy hat and my shirt tucked in, and the bass payer with his Mohawk, spinnin' around and jumpin' on his flame-painted bass and yellin' swear words into the microphone. We tended to play everything a little too fast."
So while FortyTwenty had its retro qualities — right down to a moniker borrowed from the most popular John Deere tractor of the '60s and '70s — the band wasn't sufficiently country for a lot of crowds encountered on tour. Wilson remembers one country dance-hall show in Ponca City, Okla., that led to a confrontation over the right and proper way to play Merle Haggard.
"We got about midway into our set and busted into 'Okie From Muskogee,'" he recalls. "And we had a little old lady come up to us right in the middle of the song and start yelling at us for playing it too fast."
It was an odd reaction, given that "Okie From Muskogee" isn't exactly the weepiest tune in the Merle songbook. "Right?" says Wilson, still mystified. "We took a little creative liberty and sped it up a bit, yeah. But it wasn't 'Silver Wings' or anything."
Buck in the blood
While he was once surrounded by ex-punks, Wilson says he himself isn't really an ex-anything: "I'm pretty much old-school country through and through," he says. "It's the kind of stuff I grew up with: the Cash and the Buck Owens and the Hank Sr. Yeah, it's been running in my blood for a long time."
But it was as a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student that Wilson first recognized his calling.
"I saw a band called BR5-49 in 1998, and it just revolutionized my musical life," he recalls. "It was an eye-opening experience to have these guys onstage dressed to the nines in 1950s Western duds and playing, you know, Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton tunes, and having 400 people packed into this venue and just loving it. A lot of the punk-type crowd was getting into that, and it blew me away that you could play this awesome old real country, give it a little modern twist, and have people go nuts for it."
In addition to writing songs and singing them, Wilson handled acoustic guitar and fiddle chores for his old band, which released a pair of albums and was also recruited by Nashville's Country Music Television to record a set of acoustic songs for its "New Voices, No Cover" segment.
Wilson's current band still plays songs from his Fortytwenty days, as well as material from the Cowboy Dave Band's EP and from a followup CD that's about to be recorded.
Meanwhile, he's hoping the rest of the band will take a liking to playing down this way.
"Most of the venues we're playing in the state are between Denver and Fort Collins," says Wilson. "I'm always the one driving north, so it's only right that my band has to head down here."