SHERIDAN— Sheridan County songwriters and the songs they write represent a cross-section of the community. There are cowboys that croon stories of life and love, outdoors enthusiasts that belt out mountain folk tales and sons and daughters of the pioneers documenting their present-day horizons. Sheridan certainly has a slew of local anthems, and the process for bringing those tunes into being is different for every artist.
Longtime Sheridan resident Dave Munsick recently released his fifth album, which is professionally produced and available on iTunes. True to his Wyoming roots, the album is inundated with local references — the Bighorn Mountains, Big Goose Creek and world-renowned horse trainer Buck Brannaman, to name a few. He released his album at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center last month amid a live show with a connected crowd of 300.
“I like to think of my songs as being honest way down to the bone,” Munsick said. “They are about things that have happened in reality and have been filtered through me, whatever that is.”
Munsick said through his years of songwriting, performing, recording and passing on the legacy of music to his sons, the key to musical creativity is intangible.
“The primary tool you have is listening to the song and letting it lead you,” he said. “It will tell you what it needs. You try to get in there and bend and steer when you need to, but let the song call the shots. Some songs want regional dialect, some want natural dialect, some want symbolic words that will trigger images.”
“As far as I’m concerned, music is as close as you can get to magic. You start with nothing. Your slate is the blue sky and the wind blowing across the grass,” Munsick said. “After a while, there’s a song. Where did it come from?”
Wayne Hape is a local most widely known for his leather work and is a lifelong musician. He has been seen over the years in Sheridan’s live music venues with his former band, Three-Legged Mule, that fell apart when a member moved away. He is also part of a band in Alaska, where he spends summers, and has been featured on National Public Radio there. While he’s presently in between having regular bandmates, there’s always a chance there’s a song brewing in his head.
“I have tried all the different processes,” Hape said. “My own is that I will get a thought or idea and I try to write it down. Things are fleeting and you can forget, so I write it down right away. Then, when you find the tune, you can hook the two together. That way, you come at it from both sides.”
Hape said having to stay with algorithm of a chosen song can work as a catalyst for creativity.
“You’re writing to a rhythm, so you have to think about syllables working with the cadence of the song,” he said. “You have to rearrange things for the thought to fit into the specific musical score you have going.”
Hape’s best-known works includes “Crazy Woman Creek,” a true pioneer tale of a lady whose family was killed by Native Americans. The natives subsequently took care of her because her mental illness was seen as a sign she was touched by God.
April June Bretzman, who is better known as a musician by her first and middle names, denies that she gets stuck within any parameters.
“I think when musicians get hung up on trying to put a song into a certain format or even using a special metaphor, that’s where they get lost,” she said. “I think it’s actually better to just simplify and think about what it is you’re feeling or the dynamic you’re trying to portray and not get hung up on making it a hook or a famous song. It puts too much pressure on it.”
While the writing process changes from person to person, and changes again within the season’s of that person’s life, the motivation remains largely universal. Bretzman calls it a tool for meditation and mental health. “Any time you get up and play, you’re putting yourself up there for people to judge,” she said. “You’re still releasing what it was that was brought to you to write.”
Munsick said it improves his quality of life, but even with his regional success, that doesn’t necessarily show up in his wallet.
“Musicians are having it harder and harder all the time,” Munsick said. “Selling CDs is a crumbling business plan. Then again, there was no pot of gold back in the troubadour days or minstrel days or the king’s ensemble…Even with that in mind, there were still musicians. There will always be.”
By Tracee Davis
The Sheridan Press