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State cowboy song--New Mexico now has an official state cowboy song

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)--Cowpokes now have a good reason to gather 'round the campfire and break out the guitar--New Mexico now has an official state cowboy song.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation March 25 declaring "Under the New Mexico Skies," by vintage Western cowboy swing artist Syd Masters of Edgewood, as the state's first official cowboy song.

New Mexico is the first state to adopt an official cowboy song, said Rick Huff, president of the Western Music Association's New Mexico chapter and member of the New Mexico Music Commission.

The homage to cowhands was the idea of Rep. Gloria Vaughn, R-Alamogordo, who first introduced the proposal during the 2007 legislative session.

Vaughn, with the help of the New Mexico Music Commission, kicked off a competition to choose the state's cowboy song at the Western Music Association's music festival in Albuquerque in November 2007. The Masters tune was picked the following year from a field of 26 others--songs by New Mexico songwriters.

Masters performed the song on the House floor earlier this month.

The true-to-tradition tune, with a rolling melody and catchy lyrics, features guitar and acoustic bass with a twangy male voice that breaks into three-part harmony for the chorus.

"The song tells about New Mexico: the beautiful landscape, wildlife, the flowers and the beautiful mountains of New Mexico--the things that we are proudest of. And cowboys and ranchers are also the things we are proudest of," Vaughn said. "Because we have so many ranchers and cattle people, this is important for New Mexico."

The livestock industry is New Mexico's single most important agricultural commodity, with total annual sales of dairy and beef cattle totaling almost $2 billion.

Richardson also signed legislation, March 25, designating a custom guitar by an Albuquerque firm, Pimentel and Sons, as New Mexico's official guitar. The handcrafted guitar--known as the New Mexico Sunrise--features inlaid Zia sun symbols.

The inspiration for the cowboy song came from the Turquoise Trail, Masters said. The historic trail spans the heart of the state, linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

"I write a lot of songs about New Mexico. But with this one, I was having a photo taken and, while waiting for the clouds to move, I leaned against an adobe wall and there was a creek running by. It turned out to be the right thing to describe," Masters said.

The 42-year-old has been writing songs for about 15 years and has been performing for 25.

"To have a state song--I'm very fortunate," he said.

Masters performs with two other musicians, known as the Swing Riders. The trio focuses on preserving the tradition of singing cowboys.

"We had a lot of guys in the old days writing a lot of songs as they went from camp to camp. There's a lot of history in the state with songwriters that were working cowboys," Masters said. "I travel to a lot of other states and it's a good way to help spread that culture."

Singing cowboys have been a dominant part of American culture, said cowboy music expert Jana Fallin, a professor and music education division chair at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

"It's amazing how much culture has been affected by the cowboy," she said. "But the cowboys really did sing. They sang to keep the cattle moving along; they sang to keep the cattle calm; and they sang to entertain each other. They call it the last troubadour tradition."

The state's newly branded cowboy ditty now joins New Mexico's other songs including a Spanish language state song, state ballad, and state bilingual song.

New Mexico's official state song, "O Fair New Mexico," also has a touch of Western lore. The song was written by the daughter of famed sheriff Pat Garrett, who allegedly gunned down outlaw Billy the Kid.

Several other Western states have official songs with a cowboy twist: Kansas' "Home on the Range" and Oklahoma's "Oklahoma!"

Masters hopes to rope the state into using the song in tourism promotions and outreach events. The New Mexico Music Commission plans to put out a CD including the top voted cowboy songs in the competition.

"We play (the song) in every show. Now it can be introduced as the official state cowboy song," Masters said.

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