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Clyne was familiar with Hersey already from his performances at the Steakout, and recalls the first time he heard "Compañero Blanco." "It captured everything about the area and the lifestyle and the feelin' of it, the soul of it, that anyone could want to hear in one song," he says. The two became fast friends and Hersey found a mentor of sorts in Clyne.
Clyne contributed vocal, guitar and harmonica work to Compañero Blanco, and guided Hersey through the process of producing the disc. Additionally, P.H. Naffah, the Peacemakers' drummer, produced and played drums on the record, and Peacemakers guitarist Steve Larson played guitar on "One More Way."
In 1999, Hersey inadvertently found the motivation that would shift his focus entirely onto his musical pursuits. He had contracted to shoe 20 horses on a private ranch and was working by himself. "One of the things they taught us in school was if you're gonna do the trade, you're gonna get hurt, it's just part of it," Hersey says. He was working on his last horse of the contract, a high-strung athletic horse just in from Texas, when his career was suddenly ended.
"I was working too fast around this horse, a horse that was unfamiliar with me. Usually, you can shoe a horse in about an hour; this horse it was an hour and a half just doing the front feet; he needed some help. I went to pick up his left hind foot and he started to lean; I thought he was gonna fall over. He jumped, caught himself with his right hind leg, lunged back toward me and kicked me below my belly button and above my belt buckle."
Hersey suffered an inguinal hernia as a result; he also decided that his horseshoeing days had come to an end. "The horse broke his lead rope, I left him standing there, I left my tools, everything. Then I decided, I don't want to do this anymore,'" he says.
Not long after, the Peacemakers invited Hersey to join them on a monthlong tour, opening for the band with only his acoustic guitar and his hat. "He just charmed 'em," Clyne says of Hersey's performances. "The music showed its strength."
That strength runs like a flash flood through a wash on Compañero Blanco. The album opens with "Horses Hitches & Rocky Trails," a foot-stompin' tribute to a nonagenarian cowboy named Lyman Tenney whom Hersey met when he was 17, working on the Pantano Ranch – "That was the first cowboy that ever called me a cowboy," grins Hersey.
Hersey channels the sorrowful spirits of country music's past throughout the album. On "(Next Time) A Diamond Won't Cut It" and "First Time Alone" he sings of love gone wrong and the tumult that follows for the women involved. "Losing Gets Easier," a duet with silver-voiced Kelli Weymouth, demonstrates Hersey's penchant for what he calls "Southwest cowboy rock 'n' roll," with searing guitar solos and a rhythm section powered by bass player Jay Trapp and the Peacemakers' Naffah. The album ends on a lighter note with "Cowboy Attitude," an intentionally hokey tale about rodeo rider Rocky Locke – "He said the hat cost 90 dollars but the attitude is free," Hersey sings over a plodding beat.
Andy Hersey is preparing to hit the road with a full band for the first time early this year. Since recording the album, he's put together a permanent lineup featuring brothers Danny and Joe Hernandez on drums and bass, respectively, Donny Russell on mandolin and guitar, and the Valley's Bobby Krech on the fiddle.
Hersey is intent on maintaining the old-school integrity of his music, even if that means being shunned by the Nashville mafia that runs the country music business with a heavy hand. "We just can't compromise ourselves," he says. "For the band, I want to keep people gainfully employed as long as we can. We want to make our families proud."
Clyne, for one, has no doubt that Hersey's ambitions will take him far. "He's the kind of guy that can do a lot of hard miles and still keep going," he says. "I'm not worried about whether his skin's thick or thin enough to be independent. He knows how to walk a desert."