And It All Started With a Song
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head and wondered who had written it and what the story was behind it, but couldn’t find it because you had so little to go on?
I used to listen to a local country music station all day that was known for playing songs that weren’t part of the mainstream Top 10 like you hear on most stations. I loved it because I heard so many songs that introduced me to new artists that had so much talent that I’d miss out on by listening to the other stations. One of the songs I loved to hear was a soulful bluesy song about a lonely man, the moon and a train. Unfortunately, I never caught who sang it or the title of it because the station also prided itself on less talk and commercials and more music.
Snippets of this song have rattled around in my brain for years and this past week I decided once again to try to hunt the song down. I had tried before without success. This time I was determined. My determination paid off in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I was finally able to locate the song and the artist.
When I visited the artist’s website I discovered that he’s not only a very talented Texas singer/songwriter, but he’s also a very accomplished western novelist. The name of the song I had been searching for all this time is “Sister Moon” and Mike Blakely is the artist who wrote and recorded the song. I caught up with Mike Blakely and had the opportunity to chat with him about his song and his fascinating career via email. He wrote the song about a lonesome guy sitting on a hillside overlooking a valley. As he becomes intoxicated on wine, he imagines a romantic rendezvous between the moon and the train. As the two merge in the distant western horizon he imagines them running away together.
A Bit of Background about Mike Blakely
To give you a bit of background about Mike Blakely, he’s a native Texan who learned how to play guitar by the time he was 8 years old. He found himself playing in various bands during high school playing cover songs. While earning a degree in journalism from the University of Texas in Austin, he was immersed in Austin’s live music culture that helped foster his desire to write and sing his own songs.
Growing up he also had dreams of writing novels and started out writing about Texas history and folklore for various magazines and newspapers and eventually his own syndicated newspaper column. The Glory Trail was his first novel that he released at the young age of 29. He has since written another fourteen novels. His latest novel was co-written with singer/songwriter/actor Willie Nelson, titled A Tale Out of Luck.
Today he lives on his own ranch in the Texas Hill Country where he performs several times a week, speaks and performs at book festivals, weddings, private parties, cook-offs, and other events.
Mike Blakely Books
- The Glory Trail (1993)
- Shortgrass Song (1995)
- Wild Camp Tales (1995)
- The Last Chance (1995)
- Spanish Blood (1996)
- Dead Reckoning (1997)
- Too Long at the Dance (1998)
- The Snowy Range Gang (1998)
- Comanche Dawn (1999)
- Summer of Pearls (2000)
- Forever Texas (2000)
- Moon Medicine (2001)
- Come Sundown (2006)
- A Tale Out of Luck (2008)
My Email Interview with Mike Blakely
Being quite excited about finally finding this artist, I was also intrigued with discovering a fellow Texan with such a varied background. I had to know more. Since Mike Blakely’s site provided a “contact Mike” function, I took a chance and decided to write him. I wanted to know more about “Sister Moon” and more about his novels and the man behind it all. He promptly replied to my email and agreed to answer any questions I wanted to throw his way. The following is summary of what I learned about Mike Blakely.
Since I had only just discovered Mike Blakely was also a novelist, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to read his books. I did spend a bit of time researching each book title, reading the synopsis and then reading the customer reviews. It became quite apparent that his novels are primarily about western living in the 1800s and that the readers absolutely love his work. A common thread seems to be that Mike can weave a good tale and that his novels are not the typical westerns. My guess is that’s because Mike isn’t a typical guy. When I asked him which of his books his personal favorite was, he had a tough time choosing just one. He likes Shortgrass Song because the main character is much like him, “a drifting cowboy musician”. He likes Summer of Pearls because “it reminds me of the way I grew up”. He likes Comanche Dawn because it’s all about horses and the start of the Comanche Nation, a topic he doesn’t believe was previously addressed in a novel.
While reviewing photos his girlfriend and photojournalist Annie has taken of Mike, it’s quite obvious they spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. I asked him how this influences his novels and songs. He admitted that much of what he sees weaves its way into settings and scenery of his books. For his songs, he finds that the quiet time he spends outdoors gives him the opportunity to think. Lyrics and story plots often come to him while doing ranch chores or driving. He admits that he has more ideas running around in his head than he’ll ever have time to utilize. He finds inspiration easy to come by and says “ideas are everywhere, if you’re open to finding them”.
Knowing that many of my friends here on HubPages have novels in the works or dreams of writing novels, I asked him if he had any advice for all these would-be writers. This is what he had to say:
“Write from the heart, not for the market. Writing is supposed to move the reader. How can it move the reader, if it doesn’t move the writer? I, for example, like to write westerns. That’s where my heart is. I’ve been told many times that I could make more money writing a type of fiction that sells better. It so happens I’m writing a contemporary novel now, about the country music business, and I’m loving it, because that’s also true to my heart. If these projects fail to make me a millionaire, I can live with that. I enjoy the writing, and so do my readers.”
I asked him who his influences or heroes were that have helped make him who he is today and he said he had three influential mentors in his writing. They were WWII veterans and writers Elmer Kelton, Don Coldsmith, and Norman Zollinger. He indicated his musical influences were Steven Fromholz, Rusty Wier, and Alex Harvey. Mike Blakely has performed with a number of artists and I asked him who he hasn’t worked with that he like to. “I’d like to perform with some of my favorite songwriters like John Hyatt, Tom Russell, Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin, Emmy Lou Harris, the list goes on and on ….”
On Mike Blakely’s website (see the link below), he has a clip from a CBS interview with Willie Nelson where Willie is quick to give Mike most of the credit for the book they co-wrote together. You can tell that Willie admires Mike and I asked Mike what it was like to work with Willie on this book and how the plans were coming along for making it into a movie. Mike considered working with a Willie “a real treat and a highlight of my career”. Even though they only had a few face-to-face meetings, they primarily communicated via email due to both of their hectic schedules. Mike said Willie was a “down-to-earth person who was easy to work with, and had no trace of big-star attitude”. Mike said the screenplay is completed and circulating in Hollywood. However, Mike’s not sitting at home waiting on the phone to ring, he’s busy working on several other projects.
I asked Mike about these other projects and what his fans could expect from him in the near future. He’s working on one music biz novel, then, plans to co-author a novel with singer/songwriter/actor Kenny Rogers. This novel will have a music theme, a Texas Hold ‘Em slant, and some other interesting things he’s not yet revealing. Then, he already has a contract and plans for another historical novel. He’s also working on a new acoustic CD full of all new songs .
With Mike Blakely involved in writing music, performing his songs multiple times a week, writing multiple novels, traveling, fishing, hunting and working on his ranch, I wondered which of them was most gratifying and what each of them gave him that the others did not. He said that writing novels could take months or years to complete and the feedback doesn’t come right away. With his music he can write a song and play it before a live audience the same day and get that immediate feedback. Working on the ranch he says is “just good for the body and soul”. I have a feeling he’d feel incomplete without all of them working simultaneously. They all seem to be as much a part of him as an arm or a leg.
I asked him if he had a bucket list or at least something he really wanted to try that he hadn’t yet tried. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t bother with a bucket list because he’s too busy already living his bucket list. Twice a year he participates in a cattle roundup, he likes to fly-fish and hunt deer. He did say that elk-hunting is definitely on his to-do list. Later this year, he and Annie will head to Norway to fly fish with a couple they met on one of the cattle roundups. As Mike put it, “Music has opened up so many doors like that for me, that I seem to stay way ahead of a bucket list!”
For my last question, I wanted Mike to tell me something unusual, funny or quirky about him that few people probably knew about him. Here’s what he had to say:
“I have serious A.D.D. issues. Sometimes I get up from my desk and walk into another room to get something, and when I get there, I have no idea why I’m there. I’ve learned that when I need to take something with me on a trip, I put my car keys on whatever it is I need to take so I don’t leave without it. It’s a wonder I ever finish anything! “
Mike Blakely’s obviously coped very well, wouldn’t you say?
"Sister Moon" by Mike Blakely
Update on MIke Blakely
Mike Blakely and his wife, Annie, have formed Lone Star Wine and Music Tours along with Woody Eastman. They have three standard tour packages available: The Highland Lakes Tour, The Fredericksburg Tour, and The Connoisseur's Tour.
If you’re in Texas, be sure to add yourself to Mike Blakely’s email list so that you can keep up with where he’ll be playing next so you can catch one of his live performances. If you’re not in Texas, why the heck not? It’s time to take a visit. If you’re not able to get here, then at least buy a CD or two and grab a couple of his novels. You’ll be glad you did. You know you’re dying to hear “Sister Moon”. Watch for more big things to come from Mike Blakely. I know I am.