MUSIC BOX: Round Is Right On

By on November 17, 2015

Get acquainted with one of the valley’s most enduring musicians this weekend.

Valley fixture Phil Round will perform with band at The Wort’s Silver Dollar Bar this Friday night.

Valley fixture Phil Round will perform with band at The Wort’s Silver Dollar Bar this Friday night.

Jackson, WY – While many longtime locals are familiar with beloved valley fixture Phil Round, it’s about time more young people and transplants got acquainted with him. For the last decade Round has performed solo guitar and vocals three nights a week at the Amangani Resort. Round also has been gigging with the Stagecoach Band for the past 35 years as well as at countless events throughout the valley. So if Round has somehow slipped under your radar, this weekend is a great opportunity to hear the man who has made marks well beyond the Hole while remaining an important staple of the valley’s music scene.

As a founding member of the widely popular 1980s bluegrass band Loose Ties, Round is no stranger to big stages and international tours. Among many distinctions, Round was the 2010 musician in residence at the Ucross Foundation, and he has sown a legacy for other Jackson musicians to aspire to. Most impressive among these accomplishments is the fact that he has managed to own a home, raise a family and remain in the valley while playing. This means playing a lot of private shows.

“Does anyone make a living going into the studio and making records nowadays besides Taylor Swift?” Round laughed.

All of this private gigging could usher some musicians down a path of complacency — show up, play the same tired set, collect a check, take off. But Round staves off the ho-hum of multiple weekly events by adding new songs to his repertoire and making interesting arrangements. This is something he is constantly working on, and when it comes time to expand his act into an ensemble, Round is ready with the necessary arrangements. Just like any other profession, Round finds success by adapting and applying his talent and passion for playing music to opportunities as they arise.

Joining Round in the Phil Round Band at the Silver Dollar Bar will be Ted Wells (banjo/pedal steel/vocals), Rob Honey (5-string bass/vocals), and Ed Domer (drums). The years run deep between Phil and each one of these equally fine musicians. Round explained: “I really respect the guys I’ll be playing with, and I expect to make some very fine music with them at The Wort. Ted I’ve played with since college. Ed for nearly 20 years now, and Rob I’ve gotten to know from his studio work in Salt Lake City.” A solid backing band and good chemistry allows Round to play a wide variety of music, from jazz standards and rock classics, to cowboy music and a few Round originals. The Silver Dollar crowd should have no problem finding a dance partner on the bar’s new floor.

Zen Cowboy rides on

Over the past two winters, I had the chance to perform with the great Chuck Pyle during his winter visits at Dornan’s in Moose. However, I recently learned that Pyle passed away in his hometown of Palmer Lake, Colorado, at the age of 70. Like everyone else Pyle met on the trail, I was left with a heavy heart.

Pyle moved to Colorado’s Front Range from Iowa in 1965. There he used the wide-open skies and mountains of the West as inspiration to write, perform, and tour for more than 50 years. During his fruitful career, Pyle’s songs were recognized and recorded by legends like John Denver, Jerry Jeff Walker, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Wyoming’s Chris Ledoux. What Pyle, also known as the “Zen Cowboy,” achieved through his graceful songwriting and brilliant showmanship, he matched with his guitar playing, developing a unique approach that became known as the Chuck Pyle Finger Style.

I first met Pyle two years ago backstage at Dornan’s before I was to play an evening of music with him and Round. Having spent all day listening to and practicing Pyle’s music, I gleaned a good sense of who Pyle was before meeting the man in person. Like all great songwriters, Pyle could convey his sense of being through his music, but it was only after I met him that I realized a big heart is hard to convey through poetry, even for someone as talented as the Zen Cowboy. That night Chuck welcomed me onstage without any trepidation, which for a veteran like Pyle performing with a greenhorn like me could be a hard thing to hold back. I was nervous, but his smile onstage brought me out of my shell. Pyle made me believe in my ability to perform and instilled confidence in me. While my experience with Pyle leaves an indelible imprint in my heart, it is shallow compared to the many deep relationships he forged on the road and in this valley.

Just as Pyle’s music will live on, so too will his spirit. PJH

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