Songwriter Interviews

Andy Hersey (The Genuine Article)

by Shawna Ortega

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A long-time friend of Roger Clyne's, Andy Hersey is the real deal: a singing cowboy. He's been a working cowboy from the time he was 16 years old, and it was only with Clyne's encouragement that he decided to make a life rounding up audiences in place of cattle. His lyrics vividly depict the loneliness of life on the range, tightly interwoven as they are with his rich family history and personal experiences.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): "If These Walls Could Talk," a duet with Roger Clyne, the way you guys sing it together and harmonize, you remind me of Waylon and Willie.

Andy Hersey: Oh, that's a tremendous compliment.

Songfacts: Did you consciously go for that effect? How did that one come about? I understand that you wrote it while you were sitting in a bunkhouse?

Andy: Yeah, yeah. I left home when I was 16 years old. And I found my way to a ranch just outside of Tucson, Arizona. And they put us in an old adobe stage stop. There was three or four of us teenagers there.

I wasn't even playing guitar when I wrote this poem. I wrote it as a poem, and then the reason I learned to play guitar was to put this poetry to song. It was three chords, and lonely, and it's way too long, but it's everything I was feeling at the time. This stage stop that they had us kids in, there was a 50-gallon drum over in the corner with a little door cut in the side of it, and some hinges welded on, and that was how we stayed warm. There was no way to stay cool, other than the adobe itself, watering down the adobe on the outside. And just a tin roof you could see right through. It used to be a Butterfield stage stop. It was a stagecoach stop. And then they put all of us kids in there. So at 16 years old, I was just enthralled with the mood surrounding those adobe bricks that were how many years old? – you know – 100 and some change. So I was thinking, Wow, here I am sitting amongst where all these cowboys came through. I wonder if Wyatt Earp sat here? I wonder if Doc Holliday sat here on the stage stop on the way to San Fran, or on their way to L.A. or whatever it was, as it were, the roads as they were then. It was tremendous. And I just started writing poetry, and I didn't share it with anybody then.

Songfacts Do you happen to know if that stage stop still exists?

Andy: Oh, it's still there.

Songfacts: Do you know what it's called? Does it have a name?

Andy: Yes, it does. It's now a state park. When I worked there it was a ranch owned by a corporation in Cleveland. But now with the water flowing through it like it does, it is now part of Colossal Cave National Park.

That's how beautiful this place was. Of course when I was there, it was all a state leased ranch, with probably 600 or 800 acres of deeded land, and the rest was state lease. All that state lease, of course, has now been traded by the state to developers, and there's a tremendous amount of development there sucking the water out of it. Welcome to the West.

Songfacts: How long did you spend there?

Andy: I was on and off of that ranch all through my teens. It was the second job I ever had once I left home. So I would have worked there and lived on my own there from the time I was about 16 until maybe 18, something like that, on and off.

I wasn't a cowboy when I first started working there. They taught me how to show reverence for people. I was this smart a-- little jerk, actually, when I first got there. I learned really, really fast. And I found a reverence for the lifestyle. That's where that song came from.

Songfacts: You are very close friends with Roger Clyne, lead singer of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. How did you guys meet? What happened? I read something about his dad knocked your heads together.

Andy: Yeah. I met his father, Doc Clyne, on the family ranch here in Sonoita, and I was shoeing horses for him. This would have been probably 1990 or something. Doc Clyne and I used to drink beer together at the local watering hole, and after a series of longnecks, he'd always fall back to, "You've got to meet my son, you've got to meet my son." And I would say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And then sure enough one night I'm playing a solo show, and here comes this group of long-hairs. And they all sit down right in the middle. And it was the Refreshments.

So I finished my set and I went over and Doc grabbed me by the collar and he drug me around and he said, "This is the guy I was telling you about." And he made me and Roger shake hands. He said, "You guys ought to know each other." And he turns around and he walks away. And immediately me and Roger struck up a friendship.

No subject is safe from Andy Hersey. His songs span the valley of family and American history, to the miraculous healing touch of a true horse whisperer, to the brutal murder of a personal friend in a school shooting, to dancing (mostly) naked around a campfire with his friend Roger Clyne, drunk on peach bacanora; an experience that spawned their song "Mexican Moonshine." Throughout everything he instills the right amount of wry humor, darkness, or sarcasm to set an effective tone for each song.
Songfacts: Okay, "Welcome To The West." That song paints a not-so-pretty picture for the future of the West.

Andy: It's about the evolving West. That song started out with a little bit of family history, in the autobiographical dictionary where my great-great-grandfather, Timothy Hersey, founded Abilene, Kansas, at the top of the Chisholm Trail.

Songfacts: Really?

Andy: Yeah, went from Abilene, Kansas down into Texas. And Horace Greeley, the man who coined the phrase, "Go west, young man, go west," claimed that my great-great-grandfather's place, restaurant – it'd be a bed and breakfast now, it would have been a stage stop or a way station then – was the last place to get a decent meal before you hit San Francisco. I wanted to write something about that, and how the West has evolved since then, with all of our false environments we create for ourselves, whether it be pavement or structures that just shoot towards the sky 50 stories high.

Songfacts: Yeah, you actually sound almost bitter when you're singing that.

Andy: Yeah, there was a little bit of angst there. You know, "Buy the land, lock the gate, forget the rest, welcome to the West." I wasn't at a place artistically when I wrote that song, and when I recorded that song, where I could replace "forget" with...something else.

There was a little bit of angst. A little bit of tongue-in-cheek. You know, here we are. Welcome.

Songfacts: "Cowboy Attitude." Is that about the show-off kind of guys?

Andy: It is. A buddy of mine named Rocky Locke, who's in the song there, was a bull rider, a construction guy by trade and then riding bulls on weekends, had a bull roll on him at the old hometown rodeo here. Crushed his hat and broke his back. And as they're loading him into the ambulance, all he's saying is, "Where's my hat?" And so it was the cowboy attitude. Keeping up no matter how bad it hurts, you keep on the cowboy attitude type thing. And that might be poking fun at some of the rodeo-ers that are into ego and their latest ride, rather than keeping an animal healthy, like on a ranch someplace. And a lot of those rodeo-ers, they do ranching, too, they come from ranching families, but not this guy. He's a good friend of mine, but he had a bull roll on him and he never changed pace. He kept that cowboy attitude, you know. And the girls, the buckle bunnies…

Songfacts: "Buckle bunnies"? Oh, no.

Andy: I didn't come up with that. That's widely known. Actually, the buckle bunnies kind of pride themselves on that, because everybody gets in their costume and wants to look good at the rodeo. That's why we all go there.

Songfacts: Shoot, I guess I haven't been to enough rodeos. Did he recover from that?

Andy: Oh yeah. He's back, he's doing great.

Songfacts: Is he still riding?

Andy: I'm not sure about that. But that's the cowboy attitude, that's a true story. That was about a buddy of mine that was too tough to die.

Songfacts: All right. Well, I'm going to go onto something that I'm sure is not tongue-in-cheek. Can you take me through "It's Not Okay"?

Andy: Yeah. That was not a feel-good song at all. I wrote that with my friend Karen Carter. There was a fellow that I worked with, he was a bass player, and a fine bass player. His name was Don Monroe. We played together on a number of shows and had a terrific friendship. His wife Barbara was one of the instructors at the University of Arizona Nursing School. She was one of the instructors that was slain when a disgruntled student came in and opened fire. And that was Don Monroe's wife, Barbara, and another instructor there. This student was disgruntled because he was failing the class, and it made national news. And all of a sudden there's no way that anything is ever going to be the same. And so I was feeling that, and that's how we ended up writing it.

"It's not okay, it's just over." It's not about her leaving him by choice. But it is a loss, and it is an end of a relationship. Not a failed relationship, but a relationship that ended that way. And Don is doing fine, just so you know.

Songfacts: How long ago was that?

Andy: This would have maybe '01 or '02.

Songfacts: Well, that's much, much heavier than I anticipated.

Andy: Yeah. You know, I've had people approach me after live shows and say, "I lost my wife to cancer." The first time I ever played that song live, a fellow came up with tears in his eyes and we shared a good cry. And that's how I know that songwriting, if it's genuine in its conception, does continue to be, and that's all I need to keep going as a songwriter.

Songfacts: Powerful. Incredibly powerful. Okay, correct me if I'm wrong on this. I remember at one of yours and Roger's concerts, the two of you were up there and telling a story about dancing around a bonfire. It was maybe in Tucson out in the desert. And from that you guys wrote "Mexican Moonshine"?

Andy: Yeah. Exactly. And I'd like to start off this quote by saying it was Roger's fault. (laughs) It was Roger's fault.

Songfacts: I'll put that in big letters.

Andy: In a song I wrote called "Companero Blanco," there's kind of a narrative, and I referred to the spirit that we were drinking, me and the other character, I guess, Rueben, he handed me a bottle of bacañora, and it was the first time I had ever experienced that. And basically it is moonshine from south of the line. And it was terrific. So in this narrative, I thought I like the way that "Mexican moonshine…" I like the kind of alliteration there. And I presented it to Roger, he said, "You know, you've got about 14 different hook lines in that song." And I said, "Well, Roger, the song is 6-minutes long. I didn't write it for radio, I wrote it for me, actually." I mean, I wrote it because it just came out, and it took that long to say everything I needed to say. He said, "You've got 14 different hook lines for 14 different songs just right there." I said, "Well, pick your favorite one." He said, "I like Mexican moonshine." I said, "Well, let's write it." And so we ended up coming up with our story for "Mexican Moonshine."

Dancing around a bonfire… the way it worked is, Roger and I went on a hike, he had a teepee that he and his family had set up on the ranch. Well, we had to walk about two miles to get to the teepee from the house that we were staying at on the ranch. So Roger and I, with flashlights and a bottle of bacañora, took a couple of beers, and Roger said, "Okay, I'm going to go to sleep now. Be sure that the fire doesn't go out in this teepee, because if it does, it'll smolder and the whole place will fill up with smoke." So me and my bacañora, I just started keeping the fire lit. And Roger wakes up and the fire is almost touching the outer tent of the canvas of the teepee. So we ended up walking around outside. And I said, "Well, we'll blame it on the Mexican moonshine and the bacañora." And so we ended up doing paces around the outside of the teepee half-naked because we left our clothes inside because we were so hot. And that's how that started and ended was right there. It genuinely was. It was a fun, fun thing.

I kept the fire going, though. Roger told me not to let the fire go out, so I didn't.

Songfacts: (laughing) That's right, you did your job.

Andy: (laughing) I did as per my instructions.

Songfacts: Oh, my goodness. You know, it intrigues me to hear his version of it, and then to hear your version of it. I'm curious, you wrote it together, but did you help each other out on your own version of it, recording it?

Andy: Well, yeah, we did. Roger has the Peñasco version of (singing) "Mexican moonshine," but I can't sing that yodel every night and keep my voice put together. So I have to do kind of the Galveston Bay version of it, where it would be sung more solid, more monotone a little bit. Hopefully the same sentiment is there.

Songfacts: Roger told me specifically to ask you about "All The More Reason." Because I had asked him about "Winter In Your Heart," and he told me that that stemmed from a conversation that you and he were having, and you went off your way, and he went off his way, and the two of you wrote on the same subject in your own styles and your own way. Can you elaborate on that?

Andy: Yeah… It really is not so much where we're going as what we're taking with us. And when we count the reasons for the things that we do, when we follow our paths, that's what this song is about. Roger and I were sitting there, and it was a holiday or something, and Roger and his wife and their three kids were at the ranch. And Roger and I just found the occasion to be sitting there sipping coffee outside in my little barn where I keep my anvil. Like a little blacksmith shop. And I was telling him about this song, or this idea for a song about how everything we see as we look around right now is just all the more reason to be thankful for things to progress. Everywhere we look we can find another reason for love, we can find another reason to care, another place to be needed, another place where we can make a difference in life as people. And that's just all the more reason to show benevolence, to teach, to learn, to gather, to cast away whatever we know. And just about that time, his son, Rusty, came running up to us from the house out across this kind of bit of a little road area there where it has a bunch of rusty nails and things. I mean, the place has been around since the '20s, you can't pick up every rusty nail. So here he comes tearing a-- across the lawn, and he's barefoot. "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" and he's got a bow and arrow in his hand or something, and he's wanting to show his dad something. And he has no regard for any of the sharp rocks or any of the stuff that could happen to his feet. And he made it… we both kind of sit up and think, "Oh, my goodness, don't hurt yourself." And he just tears right across it and walks right up and starts talking to his dad about the feathers on the end of his arrow or whatever. And I just looked at Roger and said, "There's all the more reason." And he looked at me, and we just started writing it. I had part of it, and then he added on. And we just combined that into the first time we ever fell in love, the first time we ever saw the sparkle in our future wives' eyes, the first time we ever thought, Hey, she might think I'm cute. That type of thing. And it was terrific. And we got to reminisce on all of our favorite feelings. And so we ended up writing that song.

Songfacts: That's beautiful. My favorite – and I have to tell you, this one gives me chills to listen to it. "Between God And Country." It's very haunting. And again, is that what you were going for? Is this a true story?

Andy: Yes, it is. And I try not to cry when I sing it. I was a horseshoer for 15 years. And as I started I was an apprentice with a man named Red Martin, who was a pretty good poet. And he was half Irish and half Native American. And he always drew from both sides of his lineage. And as far as the Native American side, he was always taught by his tribal elders that as long as he had harmony between the earth and the sky and himself, that all things were in place. That was all. Keep harmony between the earth and the sky and yourself. He taught me that before he taught me anything about how to nail a shoe on the bottom of a horse's hoof. It takes more than just making the shoe stay on the bottom of the hoof. So we pulled into a horse barn one morning, I think it was Malibu Riding and Tennis Club. These were not my clients. I was an apprentice for Red Martin. And it looked like a golf course, it was so manicured. And there was a horse in there, a mare, that was pregnant, that had foundered. That is to say that she had some type of a shock to her system. I think she got into a bunch of sweet feed, which has a lot of protein, or some grain, and had eaten her belly full. And when there's that much protein in a horse's system, it shocks the system, and it shows in the swelling of the front feet, which is called founder. And this horse had foundered so bad that the coffin bone inside the hoof had not quite rotated through the bottom of the sole of the hoof. But this horse was in extreme pain. And she was pregnant. And she was a very expensive horse. And we pulled up there, and there was two or three veterinarians there, a bunch of stable hands that were there, a couple of cowboys from neighboring ranches, to Red and me. Red said very little, other than the quotes that you hear in the song. And he took that horse, he took the pain away from that horse with his ability as a horseshoer. And it was absolutely the most miraculous thing I had ever seen. And I've pulled cows out of cattle guards, I've seen horse hit by semi trucks and live, I've been in a bunch of gruesome situations in my time on these southern Arizona ranches here. This was the most miraculous thing that I'd ever seen. And then we tried to ask him how he did it, and he couldn't explain it. Or he wouldn't explain it. As if to say, "You'll never learn." But somewhere between God and country he found the ability to heal that horse. And I thought it was worth the time to write a song about. And we've lost Red to cancer, I think it was a couple of years ago. I couldn't go to his wake because I was contracted to play in the rodeo queen contest in Tucson. I didn't know Red was going to have his wake then, you know. (laughs) But Red was a tremendous, tremendous soul. And an artist when it came to the bottom of a horse's hoof.

Songfacts: Okay. You just telling me that story gave me chills now.

Andy: Well, every bit of it's true. Every single word is true. There's nothing contrived. That's everything that I saw to be true. And if I never believed in a miracle before, I believe in them now.

September 1, 2007
To learn more about Andy Hersey's music, visit andyhersey.com

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Comments: 2

  • Cathy Scafani from San Jacintowhere is rocky now?
  • Mary from Now,cape Coral Fl, Atlanta As A GirlHi,I spent years looking for Red. We met at Oklahoma Farriers College in 1975. My heart aches to know that he passed; we are both Irish and Indian, I was too afraid to go to Montana when he asked,I was 21...a long time ago.Never a day has passed that I have not thought of him. I started looking for him in 1989...could find no thread to follow.Thank you for seeing what I saw so many years ago, no one could have understood but someone who knew him. I am at peace..he rests.
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