By Brad Reynolds, photo by Bill Watts
Wylie Galt Gustafson is about as cowboy as cowboy can get. He’s a horse breeder and rancher. He’s a Western singer-songwriter. He’s a national cutting horse champion and an accomplished roper too. Most notably, he’s the originator of the High Plains Yodel—a style you might not know by name but absolutely recognize when he delivers Yahoo’s trademark “Ya-hooo-ooo!”
“I always dreamed of writing that three-minute hit song,” he says. “My hit was three notes.”
Wylie’s many exploits have earned him international fame, but he’s not the only Gustafson to see the spotlight. In 1939, his father, Raymond “Rib” Gustafson, and uncle, Jules “Duke” Gustafson, traveled to Marfa, Texas to bring home the progenitors of American Quarter Horses in Montana. From this stock, they began one of the premier AQHA breeding programs in the state, producing durable horses with success in rodeo, racing, and ranching. So important was this contribution to our state that Rib and Duke were inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“We take our cowboy culture pretty seriously,” says Wylie. “It’s in our genes.”
Wylie grew up on Montana’s northern plains at the family ranch near Conrad. Days were spent ahorseback, while nights were filled with music—the family gathering together to perform their favorite songs. Rib sang and strummed his Martin D-18. His wife, Patricia, harmonized like an angel. The children eagerly joined in.
Like Wylie, Erik Gustafson would go on to become an accomplished singer-songwriter, known to the world as “Erik ‘Fingers’ Ray.” For more than thirty years, he’s played guitar, mandolin, harmonica, kick drum, cajón, high hat, bass, and accordion—sometimes playing multiple instruments at once. He’s best known for honky-tonk, but to label him a “blues musician” would be underselling it; Erik’s repertoire spans every genre from Sixties rock to zydeco, opening doors for him across the country.
Wylie mentions that maintaining a music career and a ranch operation is a balancing act, to be sure, but it’s a high-wire the brothers are happy to walk.