“One man with a guitar who played what was in his soul,” is how Tom Munch sums up his friend Chuck Pyle.
Tom and Chuck first bonded decades ago when the fingerstyle guitarists realized they also shared a penchant for keeping up on new music technology. Technology always changes, but some things endure, like Chuck’s songwriting.
“If folks will listen, his music will always enchant them… because there is a timelessness in his writing and playing,” Tom says of his friend, who died in November, 2015.
It begs an interesting question: When does a folk musician’s work become folk music?
With the music of Chuck Pyle, the answer appears to be right now.
When Chuck’s musical family of friends and admirers gather in Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill Music on Saturday, October 7, for An Evening of the Music of Chuck Pyle, it will be as if the songwriter affectionately known as “The Zen Cowboy” lives again.
The concert will feature performances by Dakota Blonde, Bill Hearne, Michael Hearne, Gordon Burt, Richard Dean, Tom Munch, Jeff Troxel, Don Richmond and more. Proceeds from the concert will go to the Chuck Pyle Scholarship Fund at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
Many of the performers slated to take the stage that night shared their insights into Chuck’s music and why they believe his music will continue to reach new listeners.
Bill Hearne first heard of Chuck in the late 1970s, and met him a few years later. Bill was soon playing some of Chuck’s songs.
Bill praises Chuck’s songs for being “about life, and love, and sincerity, and the truth.” The songs, Bill says, are “simple but complex at the same time.”
Richard Dean recalls meeting Chuck “at Steve Fromholz’s cabin in Gold Hill during a blizzard in the winter of ‘69-’70. He hadn’t begun writing his own stuff yet.”
Over the years Richard witnessed Chuck emerge as a songwriter. Chuck’s music ultimately ”evolved to capture his take on the mythos of the American West accompanied by his ever present protagonist, the unfettered traveler on the open road.”
Chuck’s songs endure for that reason, Richard says. “They are mythic and universally appealing in their search for unencumbered freedom of the individual.”
The themes of Chucks songs – the open road, individualism, the landscape – are just part of their appeal. Many of of his friends and collaborators also praise Chuck’s unique guitar playing style.
“Absolutely no one, and I mean no one, plays guitar like Chuck Pyle,” Bill enthuses.
Chuck’s longtime collaborator, fiddle player Gordon Burt, elaborates on what made Chuck such an appealing musician to play with.
“His original right-hand combination of bass, melodic and often-present rhythmic slap,” on the guitar distinguished Chuck from other pickers.
“Then there’s the deeply thoughtful poetry and thoughts in his lyrics”
Finally, “the way all these songwriting/composition elements were woven into a compelling chord progression and groove,” resulted in what Gordon calls “a musical tapestry.”
The sophistication of Chuck’s music can be disarming at times.
“Chuck’s music is, above all else, easy to listen to,” Jeff Troxel says. “I don’t mean that to sound like it’s music to be played in the background. I mean that it’s music that always feels good to hear.”
Jeff says the combination of Chuck’s voice and guitar draws listeners in and leaves them transfixed. Combined, the words and music “are like a beautiful, yet complex painting.”
“His musical style was relaxed and pulling back, but right in the pocket all at the same time,” Dakota Blonde’s Mary Huckins adds. She calls his songs “complex and yet simple at the same time.”
“His songs are catchy and simple enough to resonate with the listener upon the first listen,” she elaborates. And yet they are “clever and complex enough to hold new wisdom with each listen that follows.”
For Michael Hearne, Chuck connected with other musicians and audiences due to “His incredible picking style with his beautiful soft voice and those Southwestern lyrics.”
All of those qualities come together in Chuck’s songs, many of which live on in the hands of his admirers and fellow musical travelers.
Don Richmond says Chuck’s songs “will endure because they’re damn good songs – they do what good songs do, which is to sort of move into the listener’s mind and set up camp.”
And yet, it’s a bittersweet legacy because the man who wrote the songs is no longer with us. “Chuck really does Chuck best,” Mary says. “His delivery, timing and phrasing is just so special.”
“I miss him terribly,” Bill adds.
Special thanks to Terri Stewart for making this article possible. Interviews were conducted via email, some responses were edited for length and clarity.
List of songs participants of An Evening of the Music of Chuck Pyle say they play, or have played:
“Breathless in the Night”
“Horses on the Highway”
“Keepin’ Time by the River”
“Lay this Old Guitar Down”
“Other Side of the Hill”
“Over the San Luis”
“River and the Rain”
“Step By Step”