As a boy, Wayne Erbsen daydreamed about being a cowboy, riding the range, fighting Indians and jailing outlaws.
Growing up in West L.A., he anxiously waited to watch Hopalong Cassidy and his faithful horse, Topper, on TV every Saturday to indulge his childhood imagination. “I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s and the age of cowboy westerns,” Erbsen says. “One of the best things that ever happened to me was that I got to shake Hopalong Cassidy’s hand.”
But like many boys, Erbsen’s dream of growing up to be a cowboy never came true. So when he was 15, he began taking music lessons, first on the ukulele, then a guitar and finally the banjo and the mandolin.
He founded Native Ground Music in 1973, with the idea of “becoming the comprehensive resource for authentic southern Appalachian music and traditional music of rural America, the Civil War and the old West,” he says.
In 1995, he wrote the book Cowboy Songs, Jokes, Lingo ‘n’ Lore, and recorded Cowboy Songs of the Wild Frontier. These were followed by the book Outlaw Ballads, Legends and Lore and the recording, Authentic Outlaw Ballads.
Rough cowboys, vicious outlaws, train robberies and cowboy justice are the subjects of Authentic Outlaw Ballads. The songs on the CD are about Western legends such as Sam Bass, Jesse James, Tom Dula, Cole Younger, Bad Lee Brown and Billy the Kid.
Erbsen now lives in Haw Creek in Asheville with his wife, Barbara Swell. Together they have written books about music and cooking, most notable Log Cabin Cooking and Music.
“My career has focused on teaching, preserving, researching and presenting Appalachian culture,” he says. “I soon realized I was focusing only on the Southeast, so I decided to reach out to other parts of the country to expand my focus.”