Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

The Six Degrees of Ken Overcast

Shortly before his benefit concert in Consul, Saskatchewan, Ken Overcast’s house burned to the ground. I talked to him about his decision to go on with the concert and the possibility of a new song emerging from the experience.

BY CHRIS SIMPSON

KenOPhotoThis year, St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Consul decided to up the stakes on their annual fundraiser to support the Centre Ésperance Loyola in Africa. Instead of a standard Bingo & Bake they got Ken Overcast, a cowboy singer from Montana with a solid musical reputation to perform for them.

His CD, Montana Cowboy, was named Cowboy CD of the Year by True West Magazine and his fourth book, Sittin’ ‘Round the Stove: Stories From the Real West, received the Will Rogers Medallion Award in 2009. His radio show, The Cowboy Show, features music by Patty Clayton, Duke Davis and Lucky Bill Parrish.

And then there’s the fact that Montana has decreed Overcast’s “Montana Lullaby” to be the state’s official lullaby.

Wait. They have state lullabies now?

In any event, Ken Overcast is a top-notch performer.

And he’s definitely a change from Bingo & Bakes.

The route by which this cowboy poet from Montana ended up doing a fundraising concert in Consul on behalf of an AIDS missionary in Africa is appropriately musical.

“It’s kind of like a second cousin or third or fourth cousin kind of a connection,” he explains. “I don’t have any direct connection either to the group putting on the benefit or to the group in Africa. We have some musical connections, mutual friends and that kind of thing. And I’ve done a lot of gospel things in Canada. I’ve been to the Frenchman River Jamboree probably ten or 12 times through the years.”

One of the musical connections he speaks of is a southwest musician named Cory Miller.

“He lives in Frontier,” says Overcast, but then corrects himself. “I think he’s moving back to Frontier. I’m not sure where he’s living right now. He’s been living in the Eastend. He’s a guitar teacher, a music teacher … But Cory is a very accomplished musician, he’s played on several of my recordings and travelled with me and played live with me a lot.”

With such a powerhouse concert all set to go, disaster struck when Overcast’s house burned down shortly before the event.

“The fire inspector assumed it was electrical,” he tells me. “Probably in the attic or the second storey, But they’re not sure. There’s just absolutely nothing left, so it’s pretty hard to tell at this stage of the game.”

He also tells me how he heard about the fire.

“We were out of town, staying at a motel, and the phone rang at 4:30 in the morning. And at 4:30 they don’t phone to say, ‘Hello’ or ask how the weather is. You know it’s bad news. So when I found it was just our house had burned down I gave a sigh of a relief, to tell the truth.”

Things, in fact, could have been much worse.

“What I feel so fortunate about,” he says, “is our daughter and her husband and their eight kids all stayed with us the night before. So there were 12 of us in the house the night before it burned, and then the night it burned there wasn’t anybody there. So thank God it didn’t happen the night before or we might not have found all those kids. Especially little kids. They’ve got them from a couple of months old up to 14.”

Despite the loss of his home, Overcast’s concert went on as planned.

Or almost as planned.

I ask him how the fire will change his act. At first he says the act won’t change, but then I remind him that it’s rumoured he’ll be playing on a borrowed guitar.

“Well, that’s true,” he laughs. “That part will change. We’re going to have some different instruments than we’d have. And who knows, I may throw in something about our house. The show that we do is kind of different every time, so you never know. I kind of go where the spirit moves me. I’ll probably say something about our home and how we lost everything, but still got everything. Everything important I’ve still got.”

A good takeaway message from a man whose character is so at odds with his last name.

Because he’s a singing cowboy who lives his music, I have to wonder if there will be a song coming out of this.

“Well, you know there could be,” he says, sounding a little surprised at the thought. “There sure could be, because it seems like, as a writer, the things that move you are the things that tend to wind up in the song. I haven’t had time to think about that yet, but I probably will. You’re right.”

The next question, of course, is inevitable.

“Do you think it will be anything like Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’?”

Overcast breaks into his biggest laugh yet.

“Who knows? Sometimes you start out to write one kind of a song and something else comes out.”

Originally published in The Gull Lake Advance, Feb. 26, 2013

Notable Interviews

To the right are a few of the noteworthy interviews I've conducted.

Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy

Astronaut James Lovell

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