Southern Utah News Articles
Mike Ewing, Cowboy Balladeer
With a voice reminiscent of Don Williams, Gene Autry and Willie Nelson, Mike Ewing, the Cowboy Balladeer, sings and plays guitar Tuesday through Saturday at the Iron Horse in Kanab. And just like the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere,” Ewing has covered more than enough ground and paid his dues when it comes to the music world.
Growing up in rural Washington gave Ewing many opportunities. He took his first music class in middle school so he could be in the same class as a cute girl. But after working through his “squawking chicken” phase, he discovered he could sing. With the help and encouragement of his music teacher, he entered a singing competition, where he won the highest award, Superior Plus.
Ewing’s father, Earl, was also a musician and a singer, and Mike and Earl would often sing together. Earl only listened to classic country music such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Sons of the Pioneers. Mike, however, was a bit of a rebel during high school and secretly listened to rock ‘n roll bands like Kansas when he thought he wouldn’t get caught by his dad. He eventually came to appreciate classic country music, and even had the opportunity to meet Roy Rogers when he was young. Ewing continued singing whenever and wherever he could, and eventually moved to Oregon.
In Oregon, Ewing was a chef and singer, but when his brother offered him a construction job, he says he “packed up like the Beverly Hillbillies” and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked construction and sang on the side.
After a larynx-crushing injury, Ewing was forced to give up music for a while. While his vocal chords were fine, the nerves in his throat were severed and he was told he would never sing again. For quite a few years, Ewing turned his focus to things other than music. But then little by little, after singing in the car, in the shower – anywhere really – he was slowly able to learn to sing again. He landed himself a gig playing guitar and singing for two years at Brian’s BBQ in Cave Creek, Arizona.
Cave Creek is steeped in old cowboy history, which Ewing found to be inspiring. He started competing in action shooting, which has a strict dress code, and so he started to accumulate 1800s period cowboy gear. He found his niche singing old cowboy songs. He enjoyed dressing in authentic old cowboy gear (and still does, actually) while performing old cowboy songs.
Ewing enjoyed where he was in Arizona, but had a dream to sing at the Blue Bird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. He decided to take a few days off from work and drive to Nashville to try and sing at least once at the Blue Bird. He pulled into the café one afternoon, walked in and asked to sign up to sing, only to be told there was no room for more singers that night. He decided to stay and listen, and at the end of the night, the hostess announced there was room for just a few more.
Ewing raised his hand and the hostess pointed at him and said, “Mr. Phoenix, you’ll be our finale.” He was so excited to be able to check that dream off his bucket list. As he was packing up that night, he received a variety of offers to sing at places around town.
After a moment of contemplation, he decided to cancel his gigs in Phoenix and stay in Nashville singing at Willy’s Roadhouse.
After Nashville, Ewing went to Branson, Missouri, and opened for the Osmonds where he learned more about performing and lighting. After a season in Branson, he returned to Phoenix.
One afternoon about nine years ago, Ewing stopped in Kanab, Utah, on his way from Salt Lake City to Phoenix.
“I was stunned by the beauty, and all the cowboy history, and the movie history in this area,” said Ewing. “I was eating breakfast at Parry Lodge and read a little flyer about all the movies made in this area and thought, this is such a cool little town!
“I thought I’d stay the night and listen to some music.” After asking around and discovering there weren’t any live music shows, Ewing found himself talking to the new owner of a new restaurant.
After a short, impromptu audition in Denny’s Wigwam, Ewing was offered a job singing in Kanab where he’s been ever since.
You can find Ewing singing five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday, at the Iron Horse. Stop by and say hello – he’ll even sing your favorite song for you by request.