When his first band, the Zesto Blues Cats, played for food in Steamboat Springs, circa 1969, the few folks in the bar couldn’t have guessed that 40 years later Chuck Pyle would become the folk music laureate of Colorado.
His wise and funny songs have been recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Suzy Bogguss. Pyle’s tune Other Side of the Hill has been sung by dozens of musicians. The late Chris LeDoux topped the country charts with it after renaming the song Cadillac Cowboy.
Given the moniker “Zen Cowboy” for his philosophical musings, Pyle has stayed true to the state. His most recent CD is Higher Ground – Songs of Colorado.
Sitting on the deck of his home in Palmer Lake, the 63-year-old Pyle answered a few pressing questions by phone before a gig at Swallow Hill Music Hall.
What misconceptions do fans have about you?
I don’t have horses because I travel too much. I don’t live on a ranch, but I do live in a cabin in a small town. I grew up in Iowa, so I actually come more from a farm background.
Why do you play most of your shows in Western states?
It seems like every time I go East I’m confronted with people who don’t come to my shows. I do play some bluegrass festivals back there. I’m the master of slo-o-o-w music, so I’m there to be a musical palate cleanser between fast guys like Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs.
Was there anyone in particular that inspired your wit and storytelling?
I was stunned by the brilliance of Richard Pryor, the quickness of Robin Williams and the deadpan delivery of George Gobel. When I’ve tried to get too expressive, it was overdoing it, overacting. Now, the drier the better.
When you play it sounds like two guitars, lead and rhythm. Was there one guitarist who influenced the Chuck Pyle-style of fingerpicking?
Mississippi John Hurt, no doubt about it.
Why did you decide to record John Denver’s iconic Rocky Mountain High?
I took it on because somebody suggested it. It’s a big challenge because for many people it has too much meaning, or they’ve been overexposed to it. It has a penetrating melody and I do it very simply with finger-style guitar and fiddle.
What keeps you going?
My three passions now are food, fly fishing and health.
For more information about Chuck Pyle, visit his website at www.chuckpyle.com.
This story was originally published in the Rocky Mountain News.
John Lehndorff is the former dining critic and travel writer at the Rocky Mountain News and food editor at the Daily Camera. He is a Boulder-based writer whose columns and features appear in Yellow Scene Magazine and Edible Front Range magazine. He pens a food trend blog at: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com. For more information: johnlehndorff.com.