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Pickup trucks and poetry, Brenn Hill writes from the heart
Western songwriter/singer Brenn Hill of Utah is popular with area fans.
As trail riders get ready to trek the roads to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, Western and country music will be heard along the way. In the ’50s, cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry sang on the silver screen. Today, a new generation of Western songwriters/singers is taking their place, and one of these is Brenn Hill of Utah, who’s proved popular with area fans.
“I draw a line back to the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering of about 1990 or ’91,” Hill said. “I had a few cowboy poems written and a few more cowboy songs -- none of which were very good -- that I played at a few open mic sessions. The hosts ... were receptive and encouraging. The audience was inspired to hear a young voice singing about the West. I accepted a few invitations to attend gatherings in other states, made new friends, and it’s evolved from there.”
Twenty years later, the novice songwriter is returning to the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada this month to perform during the “Both Feet on the Ground: Cowboy Poetry and Music Fit in Today’s World.”
“It’s taken a while to realize how much I love music,” Hill said. “... I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music -- mostly singer/songwriters like Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Gordon Lightfoot, but my dad listened to country music -- Haggard and Jones -- and I liked the twang.”
Hill continued, “I wrote a lot of songs for my mom and my dog in those days --maybe even played a few for my high school girlfriends.”
He soon found that love songs were not his style, and his subjects turned to horses as he “made the connection between riding and writing.”
“I went on a pack trip into the Payette Forest of Northern Idaho in 1987 and heard ‘Cowboyography’ [by Ian Tyson] for the first time around the fire at night,” Hill said. “Those songs were branded on my soul and I realized that I might just be able to make a living writing and singing cowboy songs.”
Today, the music Hill was raised on is reflected in the songs he writes and sings, from honky tonk to ballads to Western and country.
“In the early ’80s, my parents bought me a cassette tape of Chris LeDoux’s ‘Songs of the Rodeo’ and I wore it out.”
LeDoux, a world champion professional bareback rider turned singer, died of cancer in March 2005. Sadly, Hill also faced cancer in his life, when his son, Briggs, battled the disease.
The young artist faced burnout from extensive travel and he “felt detached from the life that inspired” him, he said.
According to his website, Hill’s burnout is included in his biography, as well as how a buckskin mare he acquired from a cousin helped him realize his “love of horses, land, and people.”
Half the songs on “Equine” -- Hill’s top-selling album -- came from this time. The other half were written while his young son was battling brain and spinal cancer.
Hill wrote, “As he clung to life during treatment, I turned again to my notepad and guitar for solace and comfort. I learned that I could write from the depths of my soul.”
Today, Briggs is a cancer survivor.
Songs from the heart
Hill explained how and why he returned to the music scene.
“When I got into music, I was very young and I thought that it was more important to please everyone with my music than to please myself as an artist,” Hill said. “Eventually, that wore thin when I realized that no matter the level of success or lack thereof, I was most at ease when I was writing songs from my heart. So I avoid the burnout these days by worrying less about whether people like me and worrying more about the inspiration behind my music. My family, my friends, and my freedom are gifts from God and the greatest opportunity He ever granted me is to be able to inspire through my music the people that have inspired me.
“Over the course of my music career, I have been able to become educated as a songwriter by engaging with published songwriters from the music industry,” Hill said. “Mentors like Ian Tyson, Don Edwards, Chris LeDoux, and Michael Martin Murphey were very encouraging. Ian Tyson co-produced my third recording, ‘Trail Through Yesterday,’ and it kind of gave me some wings to get started,” he said.
In 2004, two of Hill’s songs, “Buckaroo Tattoo” and “Pickup Truck Café,” entered the Texas music charts. He toured to support the airplay, but couldn’t maintain the momentum at the time.
Hill hopes to return soon to Texas and the Texas music scene. In December, he was recording his eighth album.
“... It’s the first record in three that I’ve played a lot of the guitar tracks,” he said. “I’m having fun with it. We’re letting the sound of great players shine through with mandos, banjos, and the array of acoustic instruments.”
When not in the recording studio or on his ranch in Utah with his family, Hill travels the country, “playing anywhere I can to anyone who will listen,” he said. “More than half of my gigs are still solo -- just me and the guitar,” he said.
Watch for Hill as he continues to book concerts across the nation, including Texas, on his way back onto the Western and country circuit.
For more on Hill, visit www.brennhill.com/.
Brenn Hill has united with the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) to become a spokesman for the cattle industry.
For the second year, he is contributing a portion of his CD sales to the association as a way of “giving back to agriculture.”
“Every chance I get, from concerts to fan events, I promote U.S. production agriculture and the rural way of life,” Hill wrote in an USCA press release
More about Hill and the USCA, and about “Into the Wind” -- the cattlemen’s theme song, will appear in a coming issue of the Wilson County News.
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