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A Former Backcountry Ranger, Singer-Songwriter Michael Shaw Shares Video For “He Rode On”

Michael Shaw

A horseman and former backcountry ranger in Glacier National Park, Michael Shaw is also a singer and songwriter. He Rode On is the title of his new album and it’s out today. The imagery in this video really sets the stage for the songs and feel of this record. I asked Michael about leaving the backcountry for the city, writing for this album and my other favorite subject besides music… horses!

AnaLee: This video beautifully captures the story, and this song is a perfect introduction to the album of the same title. Tell us about making the video for “He Rode On” and then we’ll get into the album and a little of your story.
Michael: Thank you so much. The video was the result of a collaboration with one of my oldest and best friends from childhood. He grew up and became a talented film guy in LA and when it came time to make a music video, I knew exactly who to call. He’s basically a brother to me and we had a great time making the video. I flew him out to Montana for a week and we drove around to lots of the places I’d lived over the years and just let Montana do the work really. Montana is a great place to film because everywhere you turn is raw natural beauty. So that part was easy. Many scenes were shot at a horse ranch on the Blackfoot River where I was the lone manager/ caretaker for many winters during the off-season in Glacier. The painted horse I’m riding in the video is Elvis, my favorite horse at the ranch. Down the road was a little bar called Trixi’s and they let us film there for free. Montana is such a laid-back casual place, and the people are so accommodating. I hear what they charge in Nashville to film at some of the bars and I can’t even wrap my head around it. For the “performance” part of the video we rented a little cabin on Flathead Lake that must have been a hundred years old. We filled it up with oil lamps and started shooting around midnight and didn’t finish till the sun was rising up over the lake. To make that scene as authentic as possible I drank TONS of whiskey that night. I can still hear my friend (film director) Andrew’s voice telling me to “take another drink.” He must have said it a thousand times. I abided.  

AnaLee: I somehow find a way to balance my love for horses and music and Nashville is a good place for that! Have you always been a horseman and a musician and are you still around horses here?
Michael: I started playing and enjoying music at a fairly young age and horses were some of my earliest memories. In early childhood I lived in Versailles, KY right next to a horse farm. All my life I wanted to become involved with horses, but it wasn’t until my time in Glacier National Park that I started working with them and doing more than causal trail rides. Around that time, I also began taking care of a little horse/ hobby ranch on the Blackfoot River during Glacier’s off-season There were some challenging horses there and I didn’t have the know-how to help them be better horses. But I wanted to learn. So, I spent some time studying natural horsemanship at the college level with some very talented cowboys in Dillon, Montana at Montana Western. I also studied with Cowboy Hall of Fame animal packer extraordinaire Smoke Elser in Missoula, Montana to help further my packing skills. What I learned helped me in Glacier as a ranger and also at the horse ranch on the Blackfoot. In Glacier I was lucky to have the same horses, Pancho and Snuffy, for many years in a row. We really developed into a tight-knit team together. We were very in tune and when we were back there riding in deep Northern Rockies’ wilderness it was like poetry in motion. When my best friend and musical partner passed away, they helped me get through some very dark days. With my heart broken in a million pieces it was just the three of us back there in the mountains as I struggled to make sense of a senseless situation. They knew something was wrong and they rose up and gave so much of themselves when I had next to nothing to give. When Glacier Park eventually retired them, I bought them both at auction to keep them from going to the glue factory. I found them nice Montana homes to live out their remaining days. It was the least I could do after all they gave me over the years. Unfortunately, horses are not in my life at the moment. I do miss them very much and hope to one day be around them again.

AnaLee: What does being a backcountry ranger in Glacier National Park entail? Sounds beautiful and peaceful but possibly treacherous too! I’m picturing Grizzly Bears?
Michael: Lots of grizzly bears! Glacier is unique with its large population of grizzlies. Working as a backcountry ranger was a dream come true. I loved the wildness and quality of the land in that park. There were so many duties and challenges as a backcountry ranger that every day was different. One day I might be on foot, helping out with a difficult bear situation. The next day might find me with my horses many many miles back in the wilderness doing work at a backcountry campground. The next day I might be patrolling the wild and scenic North Fork of the Flathead River in my solo whitewater canoe. Glacier is a huge backpacking park so much of the work centered around backcountry campgrounds and trails and human/ bear interaction. To summarize my job, I protected the people from the park, and the park from the people. You wanted everyone to have a safe and enjoyable experience, but also to make sure what they were doing was not gonna put the grizzlies or other wildlife or the environment at risk. Glacier is managed as “wilderness” so it’s a very protected status that favors non-motorized recreation. Many folks are only used to places where you can bring motorized equipment. Glacier was primitive in the most beautiful sense of the word. It allows for an experience you can’t find in so much of our mechanized society. Being able to live and work in that environment was truly such a gift. Some days were long and hard in very harsh conditions; extreme heat, cold, rain, snow, high winds, thick wildfire smoke…it was a constantly changing environment. But having those moments when you’re all alone with your horses riding in the high cold wind, or jumping into a glacial-fed alpine lake for a mid-day skinny dip with no one around for miles, or helping some little girl who broke her ankle in the backcountry and having her ride out on Pancho while you lead them out of the wilderness, made it all worth it. 

Michael Shaw
Maggie Harrison
Michael Shaw

AnaLee: Can you talk a little about the isolation that goes along with that life and how that may have found its way into the writing for this record?
Michael: The isolation was real. Very real. In a way most people never experience. I spent many days talking to only horses and living in places without cell service. For many years I chose not to own a cell phone. And I didn’t do the social media thing until after my album was recorded. I mean I avoided it like the plague. So, a lot of it was by conscious choice. It’s really hard to be a creative writer of any worth when you have too many distractions. I find that I need to tune out much of the “noise” if I’m gonna go inside myself and write anything of value. A song like “Huckleberry Wine” was written out of a feeling/ experience of deep isolation. It’s both a blessing and a curse at times. 

AnaLee: Seems like a major shift to move to the city from Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Tell us about arriving in Nashville and did you make your album here?
Michael: Coming to Nashville from Montana was like moving to a different planet. Everything was completely different; the landscape, the culture, the weather, the people…everything. I knew it was gonna be night and day but it’s not until you experience it that you truly know it on that level. Many days I feel like a fish out of water, or a grizzly bear in a cage. It’s hard being away from your friends, whether that’s the good folks of Montana or the grizzlies and the wolves, who I definitely feel a kinship with after all those years sharing the same habitat. I miss the endless skies and crystal-clear water and the open space everywhere you turn. I miss being able to go to parks that don’t close at dark where you can walk for days and never cross your tracks. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a profound sense of claustrophobia being east of the Mississippi. But you kind of have to die to one life in order to start another. Grieving that old life has not been easy though. I think wild nature feeds my soul and I feel a bit starved these days in that regard. I actually recorded the album in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is where the album producer Grant Siemens calls home. Winnipeg has a very deep pool of musical talent, and we utilized a couple Nashville pros to round things out.

AnaLee: Can you tell us about your recording experience, who you worked with and where you made the album?
Michael: Grant Siemens was the album producer and Shawn Dealey owned the studio and engineered the album. The studio had great vintage analog equipment like Neve mic pre-amps and tape machines and everything you need to get great sounds. Shawn and Grant had worked before quite a bit so they were efficient and really made me feel at home. Shawn nailed a phenomenal drum sound for the album and did a great job capturing Grant’s brilliant guitar tones. We flew out Nashville drummer John McTigue III and then had Nashville pedal steel wizard Robbie Turner lay down steel on several of the tracks. The playing on the album is just superb. I was very humbled by everyone’s talent and contributions. Grant (album producer) was very patient with me and my insane quest for perfection. He really threw his heart into the project. It was very important for me was to record to tape with everyone playing together in the same room. It’s a very human/ organic way of doing things. Lots of albums are recorded remotely these days. Just like we can communicate remotely on our phones or through social media. But there’s a certain energy that’s lost when everything is reduced to a system of 1’s and 0’s. I’m very old school in that way. I want the real thing. Everyone else can have the metaverse, I’ll take the mountain.  

AnaLee: Do you have any plans to tour or any shows in town you want to tell us about?
Michael: I would love to tour as much as possible. Right now, I’m looking for a booking agent to help with that. Right now, I’m just playing as much as possible around Nashville, but it’s been extremely hard to get gigs in this town. The album release show is June 4th at Bobby’s Idle Hour Tavern at 8pm and then the following week I’ll be at Phat Bites in Donelson at 8pm as well. I hope to get many more shows on the calendar so if anyone can help in that regard…

“He Rode On”

Ana Lee is the host and producer of "The Local Brew," a weekly radio show plus a live showcase for Nashville based artists. She hosts mid-days on 89.5 WMOT Roots Radio, Nashville, is a voice over artist and curator of musical experiences for events.
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