Skip to content

Hal Cannon

May 31, 2011

Hal Cannon

When the story of the late 20th century revival of American cowboy poetry and western music is told, no account will be complete without Hal Cannon.  Hal founded Okehdokee Records in 1972 and is the Founding Director of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.

Hal Cannon’s songs capture the American West in both its landscape and free spirit. For many years Hal led the Deseret String Band, a legendary underground old-time music band. He has performed in Europe, Australia, Central Asia, at the Japan Winter Olympics, and as the official band of America Cup winning yacht team America 3. For the past decade he has been a regular voice on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition with the series, What’s in a Song, broadcast on 800 stations.

As a folklorist Hal has published a half-dozen books including his best selling, Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering and has produced a score of recordings on western lore. He has been honored with the Botkin Prize of the American Folklore Society, America’s Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award, and has won three Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

His new self-titled CD, assembled by one of America’s greatest producers, Jim Rooney, has been hailed as “groundbreaking” by the famous cowboy balladeer Don Edwards.

Hal was recommended to 12 Questions by our friends at

1. What is your hometown?

I live two blocks from the place where I first beheld the world — deep in the womb of Salt Lake City, Utah. Before you call me “townie” know that I consider myself an explorer and if I didn’t believe the IRS would audit me yearly, I’d list my occupation thusly. Most of my life the IRS has known me as “folklorist” which can be about the same.

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?

How about “the Singing Detective?” Though to sing, in detective terms means something far different than what I conjure.

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.

Michael Lonsdale, the Monk Doctor, in Of Gods and Men

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?

Its always a combination of art and a particular moment of openness, thus this is a slippery subject. Generally, in music “Missa Solemnis” by Beethoven gets me every time. It’s fascinating; the way William Matthews creates alchemy with color and water. I love my dear Teresa’s writing.  Also, I really like to look at my new bicycle and its lovely lines and my old car — more sculpture than transport — 1962 Jaguar Mk II.

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?

Ultimate Punishment, an examination of the death penalty in the US, by Scott Turow for our book club. For the past year I’ve been deeply immersed in Ted Gup’s book A Secret Gift by way of music Phillip Bimstein is composing that is based on this book of letters from the Great Depression.  I play in the ensemble, Red Rock Rondo that is currently interpreting the music.

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

Who needs an iPod when you are head-over-heels in love with a song that can’t leave your head, as a new love can’t leave your bed? And when that song is your own, freshly hatched from the ether, wow. It’s called “the Plains of Odessa.” I hope to sing it to you soon. Songs are gifts. Oh, and I have been enjoying Martha Scanlan’s Tongue River Stories.

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?

Of Gods and Men. You need to slow down for this one

8.  Cat person or dog person?

I love dogs and am exceedingly amused by cats

9. What is more important, truth or kindness?

Kindness makes things easier. Truth can be such a bother unless you are callous. I keep trying for both.

10.    How do you define sin?

Making the world go backwards through human actions.

11.    How do you define virtue?

Ask my beloved about this: Teresa Jordan’s “A Year of Living Virtuously: Weekends Off” It’s her blog and I consider critical topics a division of duties. I’ll keep track of the sins.

12.   Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?

It should be carved of black shiny granite with a nicely sculpted hole in the middle so crows and other birds can fly through. I want that hole acoustically designed so when the bird decides to make that flight there is some musical thing that happens at that moment of crossing through. I want that as a reminder of the great mystery of crossing through to the unknown.  Just my name and whatever they who are responsible want to say is fine by me.

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Phillip Bimstein
Teresa Jordan
Martha Scanlan
William Matthews

Hal Cannon’s Blog
Western Folklife Center


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: