Roaming Troubadour

Mike Beck, a free-spirited West Coast singer-songwriter, composes songs inspired by his days as a working cowboy. 

Story by Jennifer Denison

MBeckTo some, Beck might appear to be an unconventional cowboy, but the songs he writes about the people, emotions, horses and landscape show his deep connection to the West.

“FEEL." It's an ambiguous, misunderstood, and sometimes overused word to describe a touch, physical sense, awareness or emotion. It means something different to each person. To an artist, feel is the rendering of his or her perceptions in a painting or sculpture, or the emotion those works evoke in a viewer. Through the teachings of Bill and Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, feel has become an important word to horsemen, describing intuitive unity, harmony and communication between horse and human. For Mike Beck, feel is the driving force and common denominator behind his musical artistry and horse-training philosophies.

"I think being a horseman and musician are similar in many ways; they're both about feel,” he says, softly strumming a few chords on his guitar. "Feel is not black and white; you can't put it in a box. It's so mystical that you fear getting close to it or you might taint it.”

"All good hands have feel, whether writing songs, playing instruments or riding horses.”

The founder and front man of the West Coast guitar band Mike Beck and the Bohemian Saints, Beck is best known as an-acoustic solo artist in the cowboy-folk genre, and his music is played on Americana radio stations. He has recorded five albums, four of which are collections of cowboy songs he wrote based on his experiences as a working cowboy and learning horsemanship while living with the Dorrances. The fifth album was recorded with his band and has a West Coast rock vibe.

With or without the band, Beck's music is instantly recognizable. His haunting, gravelly voice and poetic, storyline lyrics give his music rawness admired by traditional cowboy, country and folk-rock fans. Yet his energetic guitar licks and riffs keep young buckaroos turning up the stereo volume in their pickups.

Beck could be considered a seasoned professional on stage or in the arena. However, he believes he's a "late bloomer and that he's just beginning another phase of his lifelong journey.”

RAISED IN MONTERREY, CALIFORNIA, Beck developed a fondness for horses and for California's rich ranching and horsemanship heritage. His father was a naval officer who died when Beck was young, leaving his mother to raise him and his two older siblings. Her interest in horses and music planted the seeds for Mike's future.

"My mom was raised on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, and she grew up taking care of teams,” Beck explains. "She loved horses and music. We listened to a lot of Canadian artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot, and Ian and Sylvia, but also American folk artists like Joan Baez.”

Beck got his first horse when he was in third grade and spent his free time riding through canyons, cattle and ponds on the Work Ranch, then rode over the hills to the September Ranch in Carmel Valley. When he was a teenager, Beck got a job cleaning stalls for Roy Forzoni, who had a training stable in Carmel Valley. It was there that Beck first saw a colt started and is where he met Tom Dorrance, who became a major influence in his horsemanship.

Beck got his first guitar at age 13. Every day, on the way home from school, he haunted a music store in Monterrey-to the point of being a nuisance.

Click page 2 to read about how Beck's early cowboying days ...

Tags: HorsemanshipBryan NeubertBill Dorrancecowboy musicMike BeckTom Dorrance