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Wylie continues bucking system

By Rick Teverbaugh, November 1997

Talk about bucking the system. Wylie Gustafson has almost nothing going for him that makes performers successful in country music today. He is originally from Montana. He wears glasses. His most unique musical attribute is a yen to keep the art of yodeling alive.

But his band, Wylie & The Wild West Show are undaunted. The group's new disc, "Way Out West," is rapidly scaling Gavin's Americana chart and for good reason. On the disc is a nearly irresistible mix of Western swing, honky tonk and the Bakersfield sound that Buck Owens made his trademark and has carried Dwight Yoakam to superstardom.

"We recorded the music two years ago," says Gustafson. "I didn't listen to it for about a year. But now I've gone back and heard it again and I think it stands up well. It is a good cross section of what we do."

A highlight of the package is a cover of the cowboy classic "Jingle Jangle Jingle," which appears as a duet with Asleep At The Wheel leader Ray Benson, who also produced the disc. "The highlight of the disc was getting to sing with Ray," said Wylie. "He's always been one of my heroes."

The honky tonk side is best represented with the disc's opener "Hello Heartache" while the Bakersfield section is displayed on "Fill It Up."

But it is his yodel that consistently attracts the most attention. "It was just something I did as a kid on the ranch," says Gustafson. His father was a rancher who also played guitar and sang cowboy songs.

"I didn't really take it too seriously until about 10 years ago. Then I started studying it and now it's a big part of the show. I'm trying to keep the art alive, and there aren't many other people doing it. Don Walser and Ranger Doug from Riders In The Sky are the only others I know about."

"Way Out West" is the first release for Wylie on Rounder after three independent albums: a self-titled disc in 1992, "Get Wild" in 1994 and "Way Out West" in 1996.

"There's no other label I'd rather be on," he says. "They respect us as artists. They're not worrying about us having the next big hit record. They are a long-term growth label. Rounder is a success story that needed to happen."

Wylie also believes that the success of the Americana format, even in a limited way, is also something that needed to happen. "Over the years there's been a need for another format," he says. "There's always been a big void on the radio for getting this music played. There's so much good music out there that's not getting heard like Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys and Asleep At The Wheel. I hope to see it grow."

If Americana does indeed grow, then acts like Wylie & The Wild West Show are primed to carry the torch and light a path into a new era of country music.