Growing up in northern Montana, Wylie Gustafson’s musical tastes were initially influenced by his father who loved to sing and play guitar. A rancher and veterinarian, Rib Gustafson sang cowboy and folk songs in the living room of the family home. “The Sierry Peaks,” “The Bad Brahama Bull,” “The Blue-Tailed Fly,” and “Red River Valley” were a handful of the songs imprinted into Wylie’s repertoire at an early age.
Wylie’s career as a performer began in his teens. Rock ‘n’ roll was sweeping the nation at the time and made its impact even in the most remote parts of Montana. He conveniently joined his brother’s band as a cheap–but willing–bass player.
After two years of college, Wylie headed to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. It was there that Wylie & The Wild West got its start. It happened on Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood. The band’s sound borrowed elements of Western swing, cowboy, yodeling, honky-tonk, rock-a-billy, and traditional country.
Having secured a record deal in L.A., Wylie moved to eastern Washington in 1995 and started the Cross Three Quarter Horse Ranch. The ranch allowed him to follow the path of his father as a breeder and trainer of cow horses. It also provided a refuge from the band’s hectic touring schedule and served as inspiration for Wylie’s song writing. In 2009, Wylie returned to his native Montana, settling near his family in rural Conrad.
An accomplished horseman, Wylie trains and shows cutting horses. He admits having two full-time jobs can get intense at times, but that’s what creates the inspiration behind his music. He is trying to preserve something in a sense–traditional music and a traditional way of life.
Wylie & The Wild West have played thousands of gigs around the world: more than 50 appearances on the Grand Ole Opry; a segment on Late Night with Conan O’Brien; a guest spot on A Prairie Home Companion; bookings at Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress and The Kennedy Center; and 10 appearances (through 2009) at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The Western Folklife Center exchange to Brazil and Argentina was an opportunity to share their brand of western music with other cultures.
Whether playing for a crowd of 50 or 5,000, Wylie’s goal is always the same: “To win a crowd with good music and make ’em feel like they got their money’s worth.” He says, “There’s really nothing like putting a smile on someone’s face … taking them to a place they haven’t been before with your music.”