The Cowboy Way

The Academy of Western Artists is all about the preservation of the cowboy image. The academy, located in Gene Autry, (where else?) Oklahoma, presents yearly awards honoring people who have helped keep the image of the American Cowboy alive through their chosen skills. These people include artists, poets, writers, craftsmen who are boot and saddle makers, bit and spur makers, and practice chuckwagon cooking skills.

Musically, the Academy recognizes disc jockeys, radio stations, and recorded music. Western music as defined by the Academy, has multiple categories: pure country, western and western swing, with subcategories such as vocalists, instrumentalists, albums, songs, etc. The music nominees are selected by a list sent to the DJs, as they are the most familiar with the music. The list is narrowed down several times with the final winners announced the night of the ceremony.

Yearly, the Academy meets in Fort Worth (Foat Wuth) (The City Where the West Begins) to present the “Willies” statues to the winners. No, it isn’t a statue of Willie Nelson, but of Will Rogers, the Cowboy Philosopher. One of Will's best quotes is, “A man that don’t love a horse, there is something the matter with him.”

This year the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Bill Mack, the legendary late-night DJ out of Fort Worth. Mack has been broadcasting from Clear Channel WBAP and other outlets, such as XM radio since 1969. His late-night show kept nighttime truck drivers company on the lonely highways as they kept them big wheels rolling across the United States in modern-day stock drives. His show always opened with the Orange Blossom Special. Mack was also an accomplished songwriter penning the break-out song of LeAnn Rimes’ Blue.

This year’s competitors crop has been whittled down to the top five in each category. Those that our readers may recognize from Central Texas is Fiddlin’ Jack Phillips who has performed at the Fayette County Opry in the Young Artist category; Jeff Woolsey in the Pure Country Male category; The Rocky King Band in the Pure Country Group division. Justin Trevino in the Pure Country Album category; and Doug Boggs, Bobby Flores, Billy Mata, Leon Rausch, and Paul Schlesinger in the Western Swing Male category. Paul was the winner last year in the Western Swing Song category.

The 2017 winners are presented in early 2018 to ensure the full year is represented. A random list of winners are Artist-Teal Blake; Bit/Spurmaker-Jeremiah Watt; Bootmaker-Alan Bell; Saddlemaker, Chuckwagon-Wilbur & Annette Wilson; Cowboy Poet- Andy Nelson; Cowgirl Poet-Carolyn Dufurrena; Radio Station-KSSL, Lubbock; and Disc Jockey-Ann Harwood Lucas.

On the musical side of the AWA awards, a random list of winners includes: Pure Country Male-Bobby Marquez; Pure Country Female-Lorraine Chavana, Pure Country Album-Fort Worth To Bakersfield, Steve Griggs; Pure Country Song-Tell Me I’m Wrong-Dennis Ledbetter; Instrumentalist-Junior Knight (steel guitar); and Western Swing Album-Somewhere Near Austin by Bret Raper. The Young Artist award went to Wyatt Aleman, a young fiddler who is the protégé of Richard Helsley, the fiddler for Billy Mata. The Western Swing Female winner was Cheryl Deseree, a chanteuse of Western Swing who really channels Patsy Cline and Cindy Walker to a T.

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