"They used to call it country and western/will someone tell me where the western went?/ did it stray from the herd like some poor doggy/ that wound up tangled in some barbed-wire fence?" - Let's Put The Western Back In The Country - Joni Harms-Wood Newton.

When Joni Harms is not busy raising quarter horses, cattle and Christmas trees on her family's historic ranch she sews the seeds of another fertile crop - songs.

The Oregonian singer-songwriter has written a brace of tunes with a diverse posse of writers on the ranch, homesteaded by her great, great grandfather in Canby in 1872.

She and her husband - a lumber merchant - bought the land from her parents (who are in their 80's and still live on the ranch) to ensure it's kept in the family.

Joni, 46 and mother of two, also uses the ranch 40 miles due south of Portland in the heart of the Willamette Valley as a launch pad for forays across the U.S. and Europe and now the deep north of Australia.

The singer has mined the motherlode of traditional western country in a 20-year plus career that has produced 10 albums.

"I get a lot of songwriting ideas riding a horse," Harms told Nu Country TV in an interview during her recent Australian promo tour.

"When I go out on a ride I always carry a notepad and jot down song titles or song ideas as they come to me. I've already got a whole bunch of new ideas on this trip to Australia.

That shows good song ideas come from anywhere as long as you're around good people and great inspiration."

The song is from her ninth album Let's Put The Western Back In Country that she has showcased on her two Australian tours.

"I have a wonderful Australian friend who I met at the Pendleton Round-Up - one of the biggest rodeos in the States that happens be in Pendleton, Oregon," Harms added.

"I was opening a show for Ricky Skaggs and Max Gowen, who raises macadamia nuts in Queensland was visiting some friends. He later found me at another place I was singing and said 'you need to come to Australia and sing some time.' That was quite a long while ago but we made it to Gympie Muster when they were interested in having me."


"He was the new kid on the circuit/ gold buckles in his eyes/ but the horse he drew was plenty rank/ and much to his surprise he did a double back flip." - Cowboy Up - Joni Harms-Wood Newton.

So why did the one time North West rodeo queen and equestrian recorded a video for western song Cowboy Up at Widgee near Gympie in Queensland?

"It's the cutest little rodeo arena there, very authentic, which was what we wanted," Harms explained.

"We didn't want anything that was brand new and all shiny with metal gates. We wanted something that was more rustic. We found Joe Mooney to play the cowboy role in Cowboy Up where he has to cowboy up - not only because he gets bucked off - but also because his girlfriend leaves him. He did a great job - he rode a bull and also couple of broncs. I rode horses and brought my two children in to be part of the video. We had a lot of the folks in the Widgee area show up and it was a real blast."

It's a salient sequel to when Harms first scored exposure on now defunct Nu Country FM when her song Two Steppin' Texas Blue was on a New Country magazine CD.

The late nocturnal DJ Peter Cresp-Gerrard nominated the song as his favourite on his Music After Midnight show.

It was also a highlight of Joni's 1998 album Cowgirls Dreams on Warner Western - the label that featured Texan troubadours Michael Martin Murphey and Red Steagall who toured here in 1977.


"That was written about 10 years ago, it was a single off the Cowgirl Dreams," Joni recalled.

"It got a lot of airplay in the States and I'm tickled it made it here as well. It's a song that George Strait also cut and I was ecstatic about that. It almost made it to one of his albums but got cut just before it was released. George is one of my favourite people. I had the opportunity to hang out and meet with him and he was a great guy. His music is a constant style and doesn't change much. When you record you cut 15 or 20 songs some times and then 10 or 12 make the album. You try to have so many shuffles and so many ballads - a real nice mix of your material. George and I really like shuffles. We've talked that before but you can only have a couple per album if that so that very well could have been what it was. I'm just so glad and honoured he cut the song. Pam Tillis also cut one of my songs that didn't make her album."


Harms recording career, heavily daubed with evocative narratives about sons and daughters of the soil, began in 1989 when she released her singles I Need A Wife and The Only Thing Bluer Than His Eyes.

It was the start of a roller coaster that included unreleased discs, label closures, being signed by famed producer and record label boss Jimmy Bowen and having major acts cutting her songs.

Despite having two singles on country radio just as her first album was to be shipped to the stores, the Universal label was dissolved.

A year and a half later, she got moved to Capitol Records, and they had a huge BBQ and album release party out on her ranch in Oregon.

"They released the album, and then about two weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from Capitol Records saying I had been released from the label," she recalls.

The roller coaster ride continued as just when she was in the process of being signed by RCA, the head of A&R was fired and the label dissolved her record deal.

Finally, Harms released Cowgirl Dreams on the Western division of Warner in 1998, and only a couple months after its release, that label dissolved.

She later resurfaced on Real West Records in 2001 with After All.

"That was an album that was the best representation of my music," Joni revealed.

"The photos for the album were taken out on my ranch and the producer worked very closely with me on my thoughts and what kind of instrumentation to use. It's one I'm still proud of today."


Ironically, original label mate Steagall is on Joni's new company Wildcatter Records near Graham in Texas.

"Red is a great guy, he's also on my Let's Put The Western Back Into Country album on Wildcatter," Joni added.

"Another Texan David Ball is also on Wildcatter - he's known for Thinking Thing and Private Malone. Wood Newton - my co-writer on Let's Put The Western Back Into Country and Cowboy Up is also the co-writer of Private Malone. So it's a small world some time. David Ball, Red Steagall and I had a lot of fun on Wildcatter Records."

The Texas label shares it roots with an oil company and ranch.
< Red Steagall

"It's actually an oil company that gave birth to the ranch and record label," Harms explained.

"That's what a wildcatter is. When you dig a deep well and you get the oil that's called a wildcatter. They wanted to have a label that provided traditional country music to sell there as well as through another avenues. It's about an hour and a half north of Dallas. The ranch has come a long way - it's a gorgeous little ranch with guest houses and horse riding, fishing, canoeing and everything you want to do."

In 2003, Harms was named Female Vocalist of the Year and accepted the award for Song of the Year from the Western Music Association


"I helped my husband hitch the wagon to the team/ he left a week ago to get the things we need/ I've got a feeling something happened going there/ can't help but wonder if even God can hear my prayers/ through the wind." - The Wind - Joni Harms-Hobo Jim Varsos-Wood Newton.

Harms has frequently written with Wood Newton, collaborator on Cowboy Up.

Former rodeo rider and liver transplant recipient - the late Chris LeDoux - cut the song but so far his version has not been released.

LeDoux died at 56 on March 9, 2005, after a long battle with his chronic disease.

Among other Harms-Wood collaborations are Oregon Trail, The Wind, Millie and Sunday Go To Meeting Clothes.

She sings of the ruptured romance of a Texan cowboy chasing his belle to Oregon via Laramie and Calgary in Oregon Trail.

"Oregon Trail is about an Oregon cowgirl and barrel racer and she's down in Texas and this Texan falls in love with her and doesn't really tell her," Harms explained.

"She's more interested in her rodeo circuit and grabs her horse and her dog and hits the road first thing in the morning. He doesn't realise she is leaving and he hits the Oregon Trail to try to find her."

That's not as tragic as the victims in The Wind.

The woman is on the edge of insanity after leaving her family to marry a man who perishes with his wagon, leaving her with a baby who dies.

The song plunges from pathos to bathos as the widow hears the baby's posthumous cries.

"Hobo Jim who I write a lot of material with had a diary from his great, great aunt," Joni revealed.

"She lived in the Mid-West and the wind would come up and howl outside their little shanty shack. She wrote in the diary how it would make the hairs on her arms stand up. It was that scary. I guess he left her to go get supplies and never made it back. We created some of the things but it was based on a true story."


"Miss Myra Mabelle Shirley/ was raised up in Missouri/ taught to be a lady but she loved to shoot and ride/ the family moved to Texas running away from the Yankees/
she married several gunmen/ but a great big Cherokee Indian was the one whose name she chose to be her own/ Belle Starr knew all us outlaws from Texas back to Arkansas." - Belle Starr - Joni Harms-Wood Newton

The duo also wrote Belle Starr - the saga of the female outlaw who reigned with the James gang and John Wesley Hardin.

Texans Butch Hancock and Michael Martin Murphey are among several other artists who have recorded songs about Belle who had a North Dallas honky tonk named after her in the seventies.

It was there I caught late Kentucky born stone honky tonker Gary Stewart perform in 1983 as freight trains chugged past the back door.

"When Red Steagall and I were first getting acquainted he had a special show on television about Women Of The West," Harms added.

"He said I know your music, your western songs, do you have anything about women of the west. I said how long have you got? So Wood Newton - one of my favourite writers and I went to the library in Nashville and checked out some books on Belle Starr. I already knew a little about her but we learned some more and he put it on his show and I also put it on Cowgirl Dreams. I had a great response when I performed it live."


"The sun is rising in my rear view/ I've been driving all night long/ last run's still racing through my mind/ it was our bets time since San Antone." - A Little Bit Of Love - Joni Harms-George McCorkle-D Scott Miller.

Harms has also written many tunes with Marshall Tucker Band co-founder and acoustic guitarist George McCorkle who was raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

McCorkle, author of big Marshall Tucker hits Fire On The Mountain and Last Of The Singing Cowboys during 12 years with the band from 1971, also penned new Gary Allan hit Cowboy Blues.

Harms wrote Swing with McCorkle who moved to Nashville after the band broke up in 1983 and released a solo album.

"George came out to the ranch and visited and we wrote several songs together," she added.

"I used to write by myself on the ranch and when I was signed by Jimmy Bowen to Capitol and he introduced me to some many writers and gave me opportunities I would not have had if I wasn't signed to Capitol."

Their co-writer on A Little Bit Of Love is Virginia born Scott Miller who made three albums with the V-roys before recording with his band The Commonwealth.

The singer's character, towing her steed in a horse trailer with her dog Shotgun in the cabin, yearns for human romance in their rural love lament.

Harms and Miller also wrote Shape Of My Heart - featuring a melancholic mood swing to triumph.


"Though he was younger and faster/ he took the first shot to the heart/ his gun never cleared leather/ cause it was her father and he couldn't fire back/ so the bullet tore them apart." - Coyote Café - Joni Harms-Cyril Rawson-Kim Tribble.

Harms wrote Coyote Café, with Cyril Rawson and Kim Tribble - a prolific joint writer with frequent Australian tourist David Lee Murphy.

The tale details a Tex-Mex tryst of a Mexican senorita and Texan cowpoke who dies at the wrong end of a barrel in the hands of the irate damsel's dad.

The trio also wrote Louisiana Hot Sauce and Every Cowgirl's Dream.

"Kim and Cyril are great writers with a lot of hits to their credit," Harms said.

"And they also came out to my ranch and we wrote several songs. It was a lot of fun.

Louisiana Hot Sauce is one of my favourites. I love that. Another of those songs we wrote - Coyote Café - came out of my love of Marty Robbins music. I told them I would like to write it in the style of Marty. We wrote that in an afternoon actually. It's one of George Jones favourites of mine. He came up to me at the Grand Ole Opry and told me it was his favourite song of mine. That felt pretty good."


"I fired up my old pick-up truck/ headed into town/ to pick up feed and things I need/ when my 4 x 4 broke down." Murphy's Law - Joni Harms-Buck A Moore-Mentor Williams

Harms also wrote a Good Samaritan song with Buck Moore and Mentor Williams - brother of Paul - and a prolific singer-songwriter and producer living in Taos, New Mexico.

Mentor, long time partner of country legend Lynn Anderson, wrote Drift Away - a 1973 hit for Dobie Gray that was recorded by 36 artists diverse as Waylon Jennings, Steve Young, Ringo Starr, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles and Rod Stewart.

Murphy's Law is a Good Samaritan tale of a rodeo queen who finds true love in the arms of a deputy sheriff who rescues her when her old pick-up breaks down.

"I met Mentor when I was signed to Capitol by Jimmy Bowen," Harms recalled.

"I wish I could say it was a true story about being rescued by a deputy sheriff but we made that up. It's about a deputy who meets this poor girl whose truck broke down and then tries to help her with the truck and they get married. He then buys her a brand new truck. Mentor and I had a lot of fun writing that."


"Dad came in from workin', tired as a dog/ he sat down by the fire and picked up that catalogue/ his eyes fell on the tractor, with a mowing arm and rake/ but he knew that kind of money was more than he could make." - Catalogue Dreams - Joni Harms-Jim Varsos.

Harms narrative songs have also been in big demand by independent peers and for movies and TV.

"Catalogue Dreams was on a TV show about making your dreams and sticking to them," Harms added.

"I was pleased with that. Some of my childrens songs have been used. I Need A Wife that my Capitol Records debut song was on Quantum's Leap that was a big show at that time. The royalties are pretty nice to get in the mail years later and finally need them."

Harms wrote Catalogue Dreams with Hobo Jim Varsos.

"We call him Hobo Jim, he is probably my favourite co-writer," Harms confided.

"Every time we get together we write something. Usually, it's good. When you only make so many trips a year to Nashville you want to make it as productive as possible and I met Jim through a publisher who said our styles were very similar and we would hit it off. We did - the first day we wrote two songs. The first was Harm's Way - the story about my family. I think we also wrote Cowboy Coffee on the same day. We also wrote Long Hard Ride and The Wind.

He's a great person."

Harms plans to ride the wind down under for her third Australian tour over summer.

Further info - www.joniharms.com

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