Ben Stillwater and The Sound of Country Rhythm Trio

Ben Stillwater Brings the Western
Back to Country & Western
With Exciting New Stage Show,
Gifted Duet Partner Cyndee Jean

By Phil Sweetland
Music+Radio contributor
Campfires are a big part of any working cowboy’s life, and in countless ways the 6-foot-7 singer, songwriter, and rodeo cowboy Ben Stillwater is helping to keep the flame of traditional country & Western music alive.

This summer, Ben has launched a brand-new, spectacular stage show for his musical performances that includes fake fire, seven cowboys and cowgirls, hay bales, genuine saddles and tack, plus a gifted female duet partner named Cyndee Jean.

The debut of Ben and Cyndee’s new program came in front of a packed house on July 11 at the Independence Opera House in Independence, Wisconsin. Several historical societies helped Ben promote the show in a venue that opened in 1904. The show was also a TV program taping, and it was a tremendous success.

Ben’s TV show is called “Giddy Up,” and it features the same cast of cowboys and cowgirls as the Independence concert. He plays a character called Sheriff Stillwater on the half-hour program, which includes Western skits and loads of country & Western music, as well as music videos.

Until 1962, the trade magazine Billboard referred to what is now known as country music as “country & Western.” For Ben, who grew up idolizing the Western actors and singing cowboys of the silver screen and the Grand Ole Opry such as Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, John Wayne, and Gene Autry, both country and Western music are still huge components of his life and his music.

“The reaction to the ‘Giddy Up’ show has been real strong,” Stillwater says. “A lot of people have mentioned that it could be mentioned for a national spot.”

RFD-TV, the thriving cable channel that emphasizes the rural lifestyle, agricultural and equine programs and lots of music, might be a natural outlet. Once he gets a few of these shows under his belt, Ben said he may well try to pitch “Giddy Up” to RFD-TV.

“A lot of the older generation that watch RFD are still connected to country & Western music,” Ben says. “They’re wondering when they’re gonna get younger artists on there.”

The program currently airs on Wisconsin’s Trempealeau County Community TV, and is repeated five or six times each month. Stillwater’s plan is to eventually have DVDs made of the broadcasts, and to sell those at his shows and online.

This father of four is now proudly sharing his own love for Western music, horses, and the cowboy culture with a whole new generation of kids who no longer get to watch 1950s TV heroes like Rogers, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, or the Cartwright family of Bonanza every week.

“I’m kind of a self-made historian,” Ben says in a conversation from his rural Wisconsin home in mid-July. “From 1925 to the 1950s, Western music was a huge part of country.”

As Stillwater told host Wayne Williams on Wayne’s “Speaking Of Horses” TV show recently, “I think there is a big Generation Gap in the viewing of so much of the cowboy lifestyle. We need to remember the importance of that part of childhood.”

Ben and Cyndee Jean were in separate bands that both happened to be booked at the same venue one night. Soon the duo was rehearsing together, often playing several original songs Ben had written as duets.

“It’s going good,” Cyndee Jean said of the new musical pairing. “That debut show at Independence was great. The cowboys were up on stage clapping to the music, and we had a fire ring with artificial fire. It worked out really well.”

Her own strongest influences were classic country singers Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and especially Loretta Lynn. “Loretta’s my favorite,” Cyndee Jean says, “I love the way she wrote all those songs about her life. I don’t like the new country that they have out now.”

That is a sentiment shared by millions of country fans across the nation. That audience may well be starving for the kind of traditional country, Western, family-friendly music and concerts Cyndee Jean and Ben Stillwater have just started doing.

“It’s a natural thing for me to talk about it, since I’ve spent so much of my life dedicated to music,” says Stillwater, who grew up both in Montana and Wisconsin and spent 2 years learning the ropes of production and songwriting and recording with the world’s finest session musicians here on Music Row. “When the audience responds to what you’re doing, that’s the best payoff.”

For Ben, who with his wife Heather are the proud parents of four kids, marketing is another crucial component of show business. Using the TV show, the live performances, the links with the historical societies and an upcoming appearance as the judge at the Colgate Country Showdown in Colorado, Stillwater is letting folks far and wide know all the cool news about his music.
“I think there’s a huge market for what we’re doing,” he says. “But I look at the music the same way as the marketing: People gotta know ya and trust ya and believe ya.”

That kind of trustworthiness has been a part of Ben’s life since he was a kid, not just in the music business but in the fiercely competitive trucking and timber industries as well.

“I grew up loggin’ and cuttin’ timber and runnin’ sawmills,” says Stillwater. “When I got a little older I bought some trucks, and when I turned 18 I went back to Montana.”

He and his family love Wisconsin, but in many ways Ben’s spiritual and musical home will always be on the open range, the rushing waters,and the snow-capped mountains of Montana’s Big Sky Country. The titles of Stillwater’s three outstanding CDs – Giddy Up Truck, Montana In The Spring, and the upcoming Front Door Of Home – tell you a great deal of the man’s story.

In his Montana days, Ben competed in Bareback competitions in weekend rodeos, then during the week went up to the mountains to cut timber, often 60 or 70 miles from the nearest town. Like the singing cowboys of the Old West, that solitude gave Ben the time to think about life, dream about women and horses, and create his own kind of music.

These songs, with a strong downbeat, became what Ben calls “The Sound of Country Rhythm.”

All of these places shaped Stillwater and his music, as well as the concept of stagecraft he’s utilizing in the new show that he and Cyndee Jean are perfecting.

“Some people go to college or school to get established in life,” Ben says. “Some people get it from life. It’s a little bit of a different style, and when you’re raised in the country you admire those things.”

Fans nationwide who love traditional country, miss the magic of Western music, and have been searching high and wide for the kind of wholesome, family-friendly and educational entertainment that’s so sorely lacking these days, are already flocking to see and hear Stillwater and Cyndee Jean’s live performances and TV shows.

And knowing Ben, those fans and those radio programmers in for the ride of their lives.
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