Juni Fisher: Songwriter & Balladeer

My guest today is songwriter and singer Juni Fisher. Her newest CD “Let ’er Go, Let ’er Buck, Let ’er Fly” is currently the Number One Album on the Western Music Charts. She was also 2009 Western Music Association’s Female Performer of the Year, her “Gone For Colorado” was the WMA’s 2009 Album of the Year, and she was awarded the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum 2008 Wrangler Award for the same album.

I recently had the privilege of attending one of her concerts at the Cowgirl Co-op in Green Bluff, WA, and I was instantly transported into the world of her music and storytelling.

Juni, as a balladeer, you have a wonderful voice, but you are also an excellent storyteller. Tell us how you got started down both of these paths.

Well, thank you Heidi. I love the magic of a good story. I have always been singing, it served as a great sideline for me in college, and as an extra job back when I was making a living training horses. It was listening to Mickey Newbury and very early Larry Gatlin albums that really made the idea of learning to write songs that had emotional impact.

Who has been your inspiration for your music?

Certainly Joan Baez, from when I was very young, and Mickey Newbury as a songwriter and storyteller. His song Frisco Mabel Joy is one of the songs that showed me the impact of simple language, and a heartfelt story.

I understand you do a lot of historical research for each song you write. Do you do this before you write the song or are you inspired to write from the information you gather?

I go out looking for the stories: the twist, the turn of events that makes it a great story. Then I look for the details, because I have learned that the song is not believable without the real stuff…at least not to me. And finally, I stay tuned in to finding the insights: the sense of knowing the person or people I’m writing about…trying to get “into their heads” is sometimes the biggest challenge, but the most rewarding.

You recorded your newest CD, “Let ’er Go, Let ’er Buck, Let ’er Fly,” to commemorate 100 years of the Pendleton Round-up this year. What was your inspiration to do this project and which was the first song you wrote for it?

My inspiration was having looked at hundreds of photos of those early performers, and then going to the Round-up and seeing the places where all those great stories happened, for the first time, in 2006. I needed to still write and record “Gone For Colorado” which I researched and rereleased finally in 2008. Knowing the Pendleton Round-up’s centennial was coming up was a great driving force. As I began the work, the stories poured in from all over, and some great folks shared their archives, photos, and insights. The first song I wrote for the album was “Yakima.”

Your song about Bonnie McCarroll is especially haunting. (McCarroll was killed in the 1929 Pendleton rodeo and women’s rough stock competition has been banned there ever since). Would you share the story about how you came to write the song?

Oh…that was a tough one. I went to see former rodeo clown Monk Cardin in the summer of 2009. An acquaintance took me to the nursing home where he was and introduced us. I sat down and just let him talk, I wanted him to tell me what he wanted to tell me. He knew I was a songwriter and that I was looking for the stories…and finally, he put his hand on my arm and said “What is it you really want to know?” I said “You were in the arena with Bonnie McCarrrol, weren’t you?” He said “I was, and I remember that day like it was yesterday” and then he told me the story, the way he witnessed it.

I went to the arena after that, and walked around behind the chutes, to the old holding pens. I felt a strong presence…not at all frightening, just there, kind of insisting that I acknowledge it. I did just that, saying “Who are you?” and I heard clearly, in that inner voice “My name is Bonnie McCarroll. I ride saddle broncs” I stood there and kept my heart and mind open, and wrote that song that night, in the home of Hamley’s co-owners Parley and Vickie Pearce. In the morning they asked me if I’d written a song the night before, and I said I had, but I could not even talk about what had happened or what I’d written. I just hoped that I had what I thought I had, and it took a while for me to even revisit what I’d written.

Have you ever participated in rodeo?

Not as a rider, only as a stock contractor bring in team roping steers, many years ago.

How many albums have you recorded and what are they?

Five albums in all so far, they are, in order of release, “Tumbleweed Letters,” “Sideshow Romance,” “Cowgirlography,” “Gone For Colorado,” and “Let ‘er Go, Let ‘er Buck, Let ‘er Fly” plus making guest appearances on other people’s albums over the years.

What is your all-time favorite song you’ve written or performed?

There are a couple that I really love to perform, like “Sideshow Romance” and “Whippoorwill.” Sideshow is about sideshow performers who find true, lasting love, in spite of the rest of the world, and Whippoorwill is a song I wrote about learning to find your own way back home.

Yes, I love “Whippoorwill”—it’s beautiful.

Do you have a favorite on this album?

I have a couple: Bonnie McCarroll, When I Was Prairie Rose, Yakima, it has been the most fun album to go out and tour with.

I know you are an avid horsewoman. Do you have a ranch background and do you currently live on a ranch?

I come from a farming family, but my dad was a true horseman. I chose the horse business as a path quite young, and lived and worked on a couple of California cattle ranches, before moving to Santa Ynez, California to take a job on a cutting horse ranch.

Being on the road long weeks at a time must be difficult. What do you like and dislike about touring?

I really do love the road, being on tour, love the views, love seeing the country, meeting the great folks from all over. I get in the rhythm after the first 6 or 700 miles out, but I can tell you, by the time I’m 8 weeks into a tour, and two days from home, I’d wired to drive through the night and get home. Once I’m home for a week, much as I love being home with my sweet husband, I’m starting to get restless, feeling like i need to be working.

Juni has also received the  Western Music Association’s  2005 Crescendo Award,  2006 and 2009 Female Performer of the Year, Song of the Year (2007), and Songwriter of the Year (2008) and Album of the Year in 2009. She was awarded the prestigious Western Heritage Wrangler Award by the National Cowboy Museum for her 2008 album “Gone For Colorado” (and was the first woman in the history of the Wrangler Awards to have achieved that status).  In addition, the Academy of Western Artists named her Female Performer of the Year in 2005.  Her CDs are available through her website.

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