This exhibit at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum couldn't be more appropriate. Where better to present a history of Western music than at a venue named for a man who began his career as a singing cowboy?
Museum organizers have made certain that the "Cowboy Serenades: The Roots of Western Music" exhibit opening Saturday is not simply a collection of relics, photographs and old recordings, but a living demonstration of a unique musical tradition.
That much should be obvious with Saturday night's performance of traditional songs and cowboy poetry by Buck Ramsey of Amarillo, Tex. And his is just the first of several performances by notable singers of Western music.
"We feel that music is an important part of the living traditions of the West," said Mary Ann Ruelas, the museum's assistant director of programs. "The artists performing here are all working cowboys of one form or another. They know which direction the horse is pointed."
Since opening its doors in 1988, the Autry Western Heritage Museum has made the musical side of Western history a regular part of its programs. This summer's special concerts--scheduled for the museum's 200-seat Wells Fargo Theater, with such respected artists as Ramsey, Don Edwards and Ian Tyson--expands on that.
Ramsey will probably be singing songs from his album, "Rolling Uphill From Texas," recently honored with the Western Heritage Wrangler's Award for outstanding traditional Western music from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.
To make the album, recorded in producer Lanny Fiel's home studio and released independently, Ramsey conducted a search for the most accurate versions of lyrics to the old songs.
"Some of those words are hard to get hold of," Ruelas said. "They're just in fragments, and you have to ask the old fellas what they remember about how the old songs go."
Fiel has been restricted to a wheelchair for the past 30 years, a result of breaking his back after being thrown from a horse.
"He's of the old-time traditional cowboy singers and poets," she said. "I am just thrilled he's playing here, because he really brings back the old songs. And the quality of musicianship is overwhelming."
Performing July 24 is singer Don Edwards of Weatherford, Tex. A yodeler who sometimes puts on a contemporary spin, Edwards is with the Warner Bros. Western label. And Canadian Ian Tyson, a member of the '60s folk act Ian & Sylvia, arrives at the museum Aug. 28.
Ruelas said a variety of local acts are booked for most Sundays. Mexican folk duo Los Reyes performs throughout the day June 27, country singer Duke Davis performs July 4, and Greg McCarty offers his traditional Western sound July 18. Other dates will feature Texas fiddlers and American Indian singing.
Ruelas said she hopes the deep emotions expressed through the old and distinctly American form of music will be appreciated. "I've seen cowboys wipe away a tear," she said.
WHERE AND WHEN
* What: Cowboy singer Buck Ramsey, with Lanny Fiel, at Wells Fargo Theater, Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, Griffith Park.
* Hours: 8 p.m. Saturday.
* Price: $15.
* Call: (213) 667-2000, ext. 317.