Thursday, May 25, 2017


Rob Quist

Montana country/bluegrass singers tend to be folks from the Sixties and Seventies, from the hippie/protest side of that movement rather that the full-out raging rebellion.  Think Joan Baez rather than Marilyn Manson.  But they are very much rooted in the much earlier guitar-wielding singing cowboys.  Story songs, patriotism, and sometimes a bit of political protest.

The street in front of my house is the southern tail end of the Cut Bank Highway, originally the 3-path wagon road (the one in the middle would have been from the feet of horses) north to that town where Rob Quist grew up.  I don’t know much about him, but he’s a familiar “type.”  I know more about his close friend, Jack Gladstone, who is Blackfeet.  Cut Bank is the white corner of Glacier County, otherwise occupied by the Blackfeet reservation which is roughly the size of the African Serengeti but flattened on top by the surveyor’s line of the 49th parallel.  Cut Bank is also close to the Canadian line but is primarily sustained by being the county seat and therefore the necessary location of state-related government and what were once exclusively white professionals, like lawyers.  If you want to scare Cut Bank, propose that the reservation be extended to exactly match Glacier County.  In fact, the county commissioners are now mostly tribal members.

Cut Bank is an oil town.  It can be very violent, but Jack doesn’t relate to all the tuff and guff stuff.  He’s an educator, a peace-maker, an includer.  Rob Quist is evidently pretty much like that as well.  His original reputation comes from sports, but it hasn’t made him a brawler.

Two more vigorous and noisy guys are both the sons of Rib Gustafson, a recently deceased colorful personality who is transfigured in a third son’s recent novel called “Swift Dam.” Sid Gustafson and Barr Gustafson are veterinarians, and the female sib is a lawyer.  The families live along the East Slope of the Rockies from the rez to Conrad.  In the Sixties Rib was our veterinarian.

Erik “Fingers” Ray Gustafson said he usually calls his music“ honky-tonk blues, but it really encompasses many more genres. I love Delta blues, Chicago blues, jump and swing, old country from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, 1960s rock, zydeco, a smattering of jazz and folk, polkas and anything else that moves me at the time.

“Both Gustafsons were born and raised in Conrad and comes from a musical family. His father, Rib, entertained Erik and his four siblings by sitting in the living room and playing an Epiphone guitar, singing cowboy and folk songs, inspiring Erik and his younger brother, Wylie, whose band Wylie & the Wild West, is nationally known for its blend of cowboy, traditional country, folk and yodeling.”  (Quotes from}

The most riotous and political outfit has no single star but also includes singers who were classmates, close friends and brothers.  That’s  The Montana Logging Ballet Company "Love is the Journey." //   They’re a little too old and busy to perform these days.  They derived to some extent (three literally as sons) from a couple of Helena Methodist clergymen, George Harper and Bob Holmes, both gone on ahead now.  Rev. Harper was a good friend and support when I began the UU Montana Ministry in 1982.  We met in the chapel of the Methodist Church. 

The song linked above has no ballet dancing — alas!  Tim Holmes, Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Rusty Harper and Bob FitzGerald.  This clip includes a bit of story-telling and preaching.  They tell about their relationship to Bishop Tutu.  If you’ve been rattled by recent political events (I have) this is a comforting presentation to watch, unless you’ve been put off the Xian tropes by bad institutional behavior.  Think Pete Seeger.  

Tim Holmes is a remarkable artist as well as a singer.   To give you an idea, one of his projects is writing psalms on the nude body of a woman.  Very tasteful, but certainly erotic and spiritual at once.

A lot of vids of all these people are on You Tube and so are vids of the local singers I know best and who are closest to my core:  Kenny Scabby Robe’s “Black Lodge Singers” (which actually lives over on the Columbia River in White Swan) is mostly composed of descendants of Kenny.  He was briefly in the 8th grade class I taught in 1961 in Browning, but he was always on the move and soon on his way to dance in Paris. for their vids.  Or here’s something you may be able to relate to:  “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”   Actually, this one is my fav: "Mighty Mouse."   It’s both an animal and a warrior song.

I don’t know whether Rob Quist can “sing Indian” but I think he will defend all peoples regardless of race or status without having to grab any reporters by the throat.

This is a shorter post than my thousand-word goal, but there are lots of links.  It’s time for me to go vote.

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