CURLY MUSGRAVE

1943-2009

By Larry Wines

Curly_Musgrave.jpgOn Saturday, January 9, from 10 am-1 pm, a "Celebration Of Curly Musgrave's Life" will be held at Pomona First Baptist Church, 586 N Main St., Pomona, CA 91768. A multiple top-award-winning musician, headliner at many festivals, past performing guest on radio's "Tied to the Tracks," and all-around great guy, he will be remembered in song and word that day and well beyond in the legacy of music he left us.

There is no Grammy for Western Music. The genre's most prestigious awards come from two entities, the Western Music Association (WMA) and the Academy of Western Artists (AWA). Curly Musgrave won top honors from both. He received two Academy Of Western Artists "Will Rogers' Awards" as "Male Performer of the Year" and "Entertainer of the Year" in 2003. He won the Western Music Association's "Male Performer of the Year" in both 2002 and 2003, and he was the WMA's "Songwriter of the Year" in 2002, 2003 and 2004. His final music award came in November 2009 - at a time when everyone expected him to make a complete recovery - when he won the WMA's "Instrumentalist of the Year."

He was a major presence before all that. The Academy of Western Artists (AWA) nominated him for its "Rising Star" award in 2000. Then, 2001 brought six top-ten AWA nominations in five categories including "Rising Star," "Best Male Vocalist," "Best Album" - for his "Cowboy True" CD - and three "Best Song" nominations. Recently, the Western Channel made a "Cowboy True" promotional video starring Curly, and signed a three-year deal to air it.

Curly Jim Musgrave performed "for royals, prime ministers, presidents, potentates, paints [that's paint horses] and pool tables, for grandkids on his knee or just friends in need of a song," proclaims his official biography. His wide repertoire is impressive in its inclusion of contemporary songs, original works, Spanish ballads, and those from the Celtic/British tradition that was "in his heart." An accomplished poet and songwriter who often collaborated with other top poets and songwriters, Curly Musgrave was one of Western music's most popular performers, preserving and promoting Western heritage to a wide, always-enthusiastic audience.

Curly was a star in his own right, and as half of the all-star duo with another multiple top-award-winner, Belinda Gail. Together, Belinda Gail & Curly Musgrave were called "The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans of the 21st century" by no less than the son of that famous earlier duo, "Dusty" Roy Rogers, Jr.

Belinda Gail & Curly Musgrave received the "Duo/Group of the Year" award twice from the Western Music Association, in 2005 and 2006. More on the duo can be found at www.codeofthewestentertainment.com/gail-musgrave/default.asp.

When Belinda Gail's husband, Frederic, died suddenly in July, 2008, Curly Musgrave and his wife Kathi saw Belinda through her loss and all the aftermath, including her move from Visalia to Southern California. It was Curly who took all the phone calls and managed the mail and email and flow of information for Belinda during her time of shock and grief. The relationship that Belinda and Curly enjoyed, on and off stage, can be envied by other entertainment professionals in collaborative partnerships.

CowboyPoetry.com has an extensive feature on the art and life of Curly Musgrave at www.cowboypoetry.com/musgrave.htm. Here's an excerpt: "Singer, songwriter, poet, and musician Curly Musgrave - so dearly loved and respected, a man whose grace and goodness touched all who had the privilege of knowing him - died Sunday, December 13, 2009.

"Curly had been challenged by a number of undiagnosed illnesses in the past few years, and on Monday, December 7 [actually on Friday, Dec 4], was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor.

"Curly's long-time performing partner, Belinda Gail, was at the Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, upholding their performance commitment, when Curly died. Throughout the event, she received the support of the entire festival, which had been dedicated to Curly. [a newspaper article is accessible via the link at CowboyPoetry.com]

"Curly was a proud and wonderful father, grandfather, and, quite recently, became a great grandfather."

Curly's strength and grace in dealing with his health challenges were characteristic of the man. On November 23, as soon as he returned home following removal of a second non-cancerous mass from inside his skull - and what he believed was his release from the hospital for good - he sent a note to the Western music community.

Curly wrote, "Again I can't wait too long to dust off this last go-round to thank you all from the deepest love in my heart for the love and prayers over the last week (and most of the year). Kathi and I just came through the door from the hospital and I felt a peace begin to settle in, in the midst of the anxiety of the unknown around whatever this stuff is and what it's for.

"I'm sooo sorry this kept us away from the WMA celebration and our responsibilities as members of body and WMA board. My deepest thanks for those who took on those tasks in our absence. Also thank you for the gift of the ‘Instrumentalist Of The Year' Award. Hearing about it was a bright spot in the dark of missing you all. With so many wonderful instrumentalists in the category, I am more clear than ever that these awards do not define me but point a way to growth yet to do, and I will endeavor to do that in the months and years to come with my playing, but somehow fear there are not enough years left me to grow into the enormity of honoring this award. Thank you, though, for the honor and for allowing me to be your brother in the music.

"Well, on with the healing. We love you all deeply and can't wait to see you and commune with you again. - Your Curly."

Those who knew him will note that his thoughts were for the others who had filled-in for him in his absence, before he expressed his gratitude for the top award he had received for his musicianship. And everyone who knows his music will tell you that the award was no "gift," as he referred to it, but one that Curly Musgrave earned and richly deserved. You can't help noting Curly's afterthought, as he expressed, "but somehow [I] fear there are not enough years left me to grow into the enormity of honoring this award."

All of us believed he would have plenty more years to enjoy, and for us to enjoy Curly's company, his music, and the songs he had yet to write. On December 6, Belinda Gail & Curly Musgrave, playing as a duo, were the scheduled headliners at the Autry Museum's annual Christmas Concert in Los Angeles, and I was again privileged to be the emcee.

Because of that role, I knew that a week earlier, Curly had once again and quite unexpectedly gone to the hospital, and that had brought another emergency brain surgery. He was released just four days before the show - and he made it clear he wanted to perform as scheduled, until the doctors vetoed that idea as too much, too soon.

Belinda Gail demonstrated her consummate professionalism and played a solo setoff songs for which she had won awards, solo and with Curly. The show featured many of Curly's musician friends. Belinda knew then, and shared with me, what the audience did not know.

The following day, all received the news: "Our great friend, Curly Musgrave, has been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. He is currently preparing to undergo chemotherapy so that he has time to spend visiting with his grandchildren and spend his remaining time in dignity and grace. We continue to ask for prayers for Curly and his family."

Word reached the Monterey Cowboy Festival, where Belinda & Curly were set to perform the following weekend. Belinda quickly agreed to soldier-on a second time without her musical partner, and the festival immediately dedicated this year's event to Curly Musgrave.

Sadly, Curly's premonition that "there are not enough years left me to grow" was filfilled all too soon. On December 13, Curly's sister Pam wrote, "[Curly] Jim was determined to get to his gig in Monterey today and he found a way to be there. My beloved brother passed away this morning at 9:10 am with his loved ones around him. He went the way he wanted to go, with his family, in his home and with dignity and grace. Thank you all so much for praying us through this. Info later on the Cowboy Wake."

That cowboy wake is the event on January 9 in Pomona.

You can send messages of sympathy and support to Kathi Musgrave & Family, Box 451, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352, and to Belinda Gail, PO Box 729, Crestline, CA 92325.

When Curly - with his song "Adios Escalante" and the story behind it - were featured on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" in January, 2004, the official press release noted:

"Some of the greatest cowboy songs of all time are melancholy. To many Americans the cowboy is frozen in time with songs like, ‘Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie' and ‘Streets of Laredo.' But songs of regret are still to be written by cowboys today about the regrets of the modern world. ‘Adios Escalante' tells the story of the demise of grazing country in the newly created Grand Staircase National Monument. Curly Musgrave talks about the way this land was appropriated and the sadness of the ranching community in southern Utah."

Curly was the real deal, from his ranching childhood in 1949 in Canada through the loss of his Utah ranch and his lifelong love affair with horses. Earlier this year, Curly had happily told this writer about the joy of being back in the saddle, aboard his favorite trail horse, just a day or two after being in the hospital. Later, when I had surgery, Curly was among the first to express kind words for my healing.

As Lindalee Green, president of the California Chapter of WMA expressed, "He was loved so very much by so many, and will be deeply missed by all of us."

In addition to the tribute at CowboyPoetry.com (www.cowboypoetry.com/musgrave.htm), you'll find a link for a "Quiet Fund" where you can help to make the Gospel album that Belinda and Curly had recorded. You can read more about Curly and his music at www.westernmusic.org.

You can read Larry's Acoustic Americana Music Guide with its extensive descriptions of upcoming folk-Americana and acoustic renaissance performances, and its companion, the Acoustic Americana Music News; both are updated frequently. He contributes regularly to No Depression. Contact Larry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..