Wylie Gustafson, the High Plains Yodeler

Wylie Gustafson

By JACK McNEEL

Wylie Gustafson is a cowboy. He’s not a drug store cowboy. He’s the real thing, raising both cattle and horses on his 600-acre ranch, Cross Three Quarter Horse Ranch near Conrad, Mont. He’s accomplished at cutting horses and is a roping enthusiast with national championship titles from the National Cutting Horse Association. Tending to his livestock is a daily job.

But his other job is what really sets him apart from other Montana cowboys. He is a traveling musician with 120 singing dates every year.

Gustafson has toured Japan, China, South America, Russia, and Australia, plus 48 states, to entertain audiences with a brand of music he refers to as High Plains Country, or Rockin’ Cowboy and Western. Either term reflects the country up in north central Montana, where he lives with his wife and three young sons.

He is obviously more than just a home town entertainer. In addition to his travels throughout the U.S. and other countries, he has also worked with many of this country’s big name singers and bands.  He has appeared on Grand Ole Opry more than 50 times. He has sung with Hank Thompson and Buck Owens and put together a video with Merle Haggard.

It’s been my good fortune to have heard Gustafson five or six times, all in small settings where he often encourages his audiences to get up and dance to the music. Most frequently he will be accompanied by the Wild West, a small combo of electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, and upright bass.

My strongest memory will always be of sitting in an isolated camp adjoining a small lake with rugged cliffs all around. There were only 11 people there, including Gustafson, who was there as a favor for a friend. We all sat around a table and listened as Gustafson sang for two hours.  It’s one of those opportunities you never forget.

Gustafson says his main goal is “to create music that celebrates something real, the Great Northern Plains. It’s rare and unique, often overlooked but never boring.”

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His music often reflects the beauty of the plains in central Montana.

So what is this unique form of music? One writer described it as “a blend of cowboy, western swing, old school country, and yodeling.” It’s now 40 years that Gustafson has been entertaining audiences around the country and around the globe while also maintaining a working cattle and horse ranch.

Over recent years I’ve sat and listened to him sing and can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute and every song.

But if I’ve heard a style that possibly enthuses me the most, it’s the yodeling he incorporates into his music. I’ve heard other noted yodelers, but Gustafson tops the list.

He’s the High-Plains Yodeler, who’s published a book, How to Yodel—Lessons to Tickle your Tonsils.

Readers may have heard his yodel in a national advertisement for search engine yahoo.com. It’s only a couple of words, but they tend to stay in your memory. “Yaa-Hoo!” MSN