Jami Lynn

Dakota Duets


As someone who generally performs solo, I find collaborating with another musician to be transformative. I welcome this chance to ride shotgun while someone else takes the wheel. So I’m setting off on a new adventure--Dakota Duets. With help from a fellowship grant from the South Dakota Arts Council, and the audio/visual talents of my friends Andrew Reinartz and Dalton Coffey, I'm recording duets with some of my favorite musicians from every part of the state. Here, you’ll find the first installment. And if you haven’t yet heard of Paul Larson, you should.

“Everyone wants to take your picture.” That’s what Paul Larson says about being a cowboy. To embellish the legendary character further, Paul Larson is a fine guitar picker, unrivaled storyteller, and possesses a bone-rattling deep baritone which leads the annual Black Hills Cowboy Christmas Ball at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, SD every December. That’s where I met him. It didn’t take long for me to start dreaming about collaborating. Thus, the first installment of Dakota Duets is a beautiful cowboy waltz, written by Paul. Cowboy Paul, or “Tall Paul” as some affectionately call him, is a friend, a mentor, and the living, breathing, real-life version of the legendary cowboy heroes in my dad’s bedtime stories. “Butterflies and Pearls” is the latest chapter in Paul’s love story. The waltz lays out the story of meeting long time girlfriend, Amy, for the first time on horseback out in the woods.

 Paul wasn’t always a cowboy, however. He grew up on a small farm just outside of Gaylor in Southern Minnesota. While his family had formerly farmed with horses, he didn’t get the chance to learn how to ride until his mid 20s. On the other hand, music was a pillar in the life of his family from the first. He grew up in awe of his uncle Walter’s gospel quartets, and enjoyed singing harmony in church. It could be this introduction to sacred music that developed Paul’s traditional, almost classical approach to singing. His rich vibrato isn’t something one finds in modern country music. A high school production of The Sounds of Music, and an encouraging music director, gave Paul his first solo opportunity, which later led him to spontaneously join choir his first semester of college. “I was recruited to run track, but not sing...I walked in and tried out, and they took me.”

 It was after his graduation from Golden Valley Lutheran College in Minneapolis, that his musical story takes a more unlikely turn. A winter working in a wilderness camp in northern Minnesota was the perfect place to learn how to play guitar.  “Everybody that worked there was spelunking and cave crawling and mountain climbing. These guys were good at ice-climbing in the winter. And everybody that worked there played guitar—except me!” So Paul made the 115 mile drive to a Duluth pawn shop to pick up his first guitar, a Yamaki, and spent his evenings learning from his fellow guides. If like me, you are wondering when the cowboy shows up in this story, we’re just getting there. After a move to Duluth, MN, Paul met George Fouch, who loaded freight ships by day, but also taught roping and travelled with a competitive team to area rodeos. After a year of learning to ride and handle cattle on the ground, he finally let Paul rope his first live calf.

A place on the rodeo team introduced him to the tight-knit, family-oriented, and supportive world, which would draw him in to the cowboy lifestyle for good. Paul says of those days, “We worked together, it didn’t matter, even though you were competitors, you still tried to help each other win.” Nights entertaining his comrades at the horse trailer unified his new found appreciation for the traditional cowboy lifestyle and the joy of playing and singing for others.

Writing came much later in Paul’s musical career. When he was 35 or 40, he suddenly felt the overwhelming need to play something original, to do something more. He had stories to tell, and people wanted to hear them. “Falling in and out of love, and divorce, and whatever, sure makes you think harder about stuff. I don’t know why this old cowboy writes love songs more than any other [type of song], but it’s just part of how it is right now.”

The significance of the music that Paul plays is not lost on him. The perseverance of cowboy music through the closing of the range, a century of American progress, and modern rock-based country music is pretty remarkable. Paul explains, “It’s not negative, it’s always about family, friends, grandparents, the land, and loving life.” If he covers a classic cowboy ballad, he researches it. If he plays a song written by a friend, you’re sure to hear the story of how the author wrote the song. In cowboy music, passing old ballads and new gems between generations of musicians is part of its authenticity.

Furthermore, it is still possible to hear this form of American folk song from the source, perhaps the last of its kind. You won’t find a lumberjack singing original ballads, or a miner composing work songs to get him through the day anymore. But, much as the original cowhands of the open range wrote the verses that gave rise to the genre of cowboy music in the late 1800s, the people Paul Larson performs alongside at music gatherings in Durango, CO, Alco, NV, and Billings, MT are the real deal. They write and perform about their lives on ranches, ridings horses, and working with cattle. There is something about this music that makes me feel privileged to carry a bit of it forward. It is a joy and honor to add harmony and banjo to this gorgeous tune by Paul Larson, “Butterflies & Pearls.” I hope you enjoy!




2018-04-09 15:36:34 - James Van Nuys
Very nice song and sound quality!
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