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About Waddie Mitchell

An honest-to-goodness cowboy who became one of the leading lights of the cowboy poetry movement, Waddie Mitchell knew of what he spoke long before be became a recording artist. Waddie was born Bruce Douglas Mitchell in 1950, and he grew up on a ranch near the Ruby Mountains south of Elko, Nevada. Living in an area not wired for electricity and where TV and radio reception was poor at best, Mitchell's father and the cowboys he worked with entertained themselves with stories and songs influenced by Western lore that had been passed along for generations. Young Mitchell absorbed their tales and became a full-time working cowboy at the age of 16. In his late teens, Mitchell joined the Army, and he was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, where he put his skills to work breaking and training horses for the U.S. Cavalry. During his hitch in the Army, Mitchell picked up the nickname "Waddie," from an old slang word for a cowboy.

After returning to civilian life, Mitchell moved back to Nevada, where he got married and raised five children while working on ranches, dreaming of someday owning a spread of his own. Mitchell developed a local reputation for his poems about the life of cowboys and their slowly disappearing lifestyle in the American West. Discovering he was one of many writers keeping the cowboy's oral tradition alive, in 1985 Mitchell helped organize and appeared at the first Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The event was a success, attracting over 2,000 people, and it became an annual event. It also sparked Mitchell's interest in performing, and soon he was doing readings throughout the Southwest, which proved to be more profitable than ranch work. Mitchell's big break came when he was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; he initially turned down the appearance, having never seen the show and having no idea who Carson was, but he was persuaded to do the show and went over well enough that he came back for three more appearances.

In 1992, Mitchell was signed to Warner Western, the Western music branch of Warner Bros. Records, and released his debut album, Lone Driftin' Rider. A mix of classic cowboy tales and original poems from Mitchell set to musical accompaniment, Lone Driftin' Rider was a critical success, and Mitchell would release two more albums through Warner Western, 1993's Buckaroo Poet and 1994's The Bard & the Balladeer: Live from Cowtown. Warner Bros. folded Warner Western in 1997, and in 1998 Mitchell re-emerged on the independent Shanachie Records label with the album Live. Shanachie released A Prairie Portrait in 2000 and That No Quit Attitude in 2002; the title track on the latter album was written for the 2002 Cultural Olympiad and inspired by the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah that year.

By this time, Mitchell was an award-winning poet and published author who balanced his successful literary career with his work as a cowboy. (His writing had also allowed him to buy the ranch near the Ruby Mountains he'd long dreamed of.) In 2005, Mitchell struck up a new recording relationship with the Western Jubilee Recording Company, an outfit that specialized in Western music and poetry. Western Jubilee reissued the 1998 album Live in 2005, and Sweat Equity followed in 2014. In 2017, Mitchell released Cohorts & Collaborators: Songs Written with Waddie, a collection of tunes Mitchell had written in tandem with Western musicians, including Sons and Brothers, Jon Chandler, Pipp Gillette, Brenn Hill, and others. ~ Mark Deming

Elko, NV

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