The craziest thing that ever happened to me at a performance occurred during a full-company musical production of Seekers of the Fleece in Cody, Wyoming.
The cast performed on period acoustic instruments, accompanied by electronic synthesizers. During the dramatic scene of a bear mauling mountain man Hugh Glass, the musical director hit the wrong button, and the cast was suddenly accompanied by Elvis singing “Don’t Be Cruel.” Needless to say, it was a showstopper.
I met True West founder Joe Small when I moved to Austin, Texas, in 1970. I would drop by the True West offices to visit Joe and talk about our mutual love of the West. This was right after I completed Seekers of the Fleece, and Joe offered generous advice of how I might find an audience for the piece.
I have portrayed Jim Bridger for a much longer time than his actual career as a mountain man lasted.
What most people don’t know about Jim Bridger is that he once hired a young man to read the works of Shakespeare to him (he was illiterate). After that, he was known for wearing a suit of armor given to him by Sir William Drummond Stewart, riding his old white mule through the Wind River Mountains and reciting long passages of King Lear.
My favorite Western ballad is “El Paso.” I was fortunate to open three shows for Marty Robbins in 1968, and the experience was a pivotal point toward my completion of Seekers of the Fleece and my career in general.
History has taught me life is a matter of interpretation; I see the moment from my perspective, you see it from yours, we see it from yet another, and history records our interpretations.
The best advice I ever got was from Paul Simon. When I asked him to explain his phenomenal success, he told me he “paid the price” to get what he wanted writing and in the recording studio. The quest for perfection demands a price.
I got my first buckskins and coyote headdress from the late, great cowboy character actor Slim Pickens. Later, I brain-tanned and beaded my own costume—except for the coyote headdress, which a mountain man from Montana made for me.
When I look back to the Creek Theatre in Austin in 1974, I remember the moment on stage I decided I was going to perform my one-man shows in costume on Indian reservations and in people’s homes as a genuine wandering balladeer, rather than exclusively in the theatre and on stages. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Willie Nelson told me, after hearing the recording Slim Pickens and I did of “Seekers of the Fleece,” “Bobby, you sure do like to swim upstream.”
I’ve performed at powwows on Indian reservations, in cattle ranchers’ barns, on front porches and in living rooms all over the world. I’ve performed on cattle drives as a working cowboy and at fur trade rendezvous. I’ve performed under colossal flags of Vladimir Lenin in Soviet Russia and around fires with Stone-Age Aboriginals in the central deserts of Australia. I’ve performed in just about every situation in which a musician can find himself.
To me, America is Indian Country. Most of the states have Indian names.
Bobby Bridger, Musician
A distant relative of mountain man Jim Bridger and a musician for nearly 50 years, Bobby Bridger will give his final performance of Seekers of the Fleece on July 4, 2011, at Wyoming’s Fort Bridger. In October 2011, Fulcrum will publish his book, Where the Tall Grass Grows, which explores the impact of American Indians on U.S. culture. He is also developing an enhanced version of his one-man show Lakota with the legendary guitarist from the Lost Gonzo Band, John Inmon, accompanying him.