A way with words
Baxter Black proves music can bring the NPR people and the ag folks together
Impressively mustachioed Baxter Black has credits to his name that span the map. He’s a cowboy poet, veterinarian, musician and radio-show host. He also writes a newspaper column about agriculture. Mostly, he’s a storyteller.
“It won’t be long that you guys will change your time so that you’ll be like me!” he joked in his resounding voice, speaking from the Arizona ranch that he calls home.
He was referring to the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning, California time, an hour earlier than where he was—and since Arizona doesn’t follow Daylight Savings Time, Chico clocks will soon catch up. Black had requested an early-morning interview so that he could go to the “little casita” next door to his house at 8 a.m. Mountain Time to make breakfast, as is his custom, for his mother and stepfather—or Mother and Grandpa Tommy, as he affectionately calls them.
Black didn’t miss a beat as he conversed candidly about family, poetry and playing the fiddle and the guitar (everyone in Black’s family plays an instrument; his wife is a former concert violinist), and National Public Radio, which gave Black his familiar Morning Edition forum, the big break that brought him to national attention beyond the borders of the ag community shortly after the massive fire that burned in Yellowstone National Park in 1988.
It was the fire that inspired him to write his poem The Range Fire. Black, who says his business philosophy is “shooting arrows into the air,” took a chance by putting it to tape and sending it to NPR.
“They called and said, ‘Did you write this? Can we run this? Do you have anything else?’ “ Black said, still a hair amazed but also fully cognizant of the fact that he had hit it just right. “You have to understand that it was an unsolicited package that I sent them. Someone had to open it, someone had to listen to it and that person had to call someone in that had the authority to make the decision to run it. All those things had to happen!”
Black said he asked the NPR folks at one point why they chose him.
“Their answer was, ‘Because you’re the only one we know from out there,‘ “ he said, chuckling.
Black, whose funny and sage newspaper column, “On the Edge of Common Sense,” has appeared in agriculture-friendly newspapers across the country for the past 27 years, also has numerous recordings and 12 books to his credit, including Hey, Cowgirl, Need a Ride?, Ag Man—The Comic Book, and his latest, Horseshoes, Cowsocks & Duckfeet.
Black comes to Chico as part of Chico Beef Days and fully expects the usual cross-section of audience members that normally attends his shows, namely “the NPR people and the ag folks.”
“I can create a rubbing of cultural tectonic plates,” Black described, referring to his impressive ability to bring people together that might not otherwise find themselves side-by-side and enjoying the same event. “It works. Sometimes I feel like a county fair, sometimes I feel like a petting zoo!”
Black promises an intimate setting, with the curtains of the Laxson stage drawn and him sitting in front of them, spot-lit: “I’ll tell them stories like I’m sitting on the end of their bed, like my daddy used to do.”
Opening for Black is Paradise’s own Sourdough Slim, the endearing, yodeling, accordion-playing cowboy who has played such notable venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, whom Black speaks of very fondly, having rubbed elbows with him on the cowboy entertainer circuit.
“Sourdough Slim has these big, wonderful, woolly chaps,” he mused. “Sourdough Slim is larger than life. My son loves him!”