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Yearning to yodel

Wylie Gustafson embraces an odd fame

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Wylie Gustafson is quick to point out that he has had many successes beyond his performance of one of the most famous yodels in history. Gustafson, a native of Conrad, first rocked our region through the ’80s in a wildly popular cover band called The Talk with his brother, Erik “Fingers” Ray. Since he dropped the Talking Heads tributes to perform country and western music and released his debut album in 1997, Gustafson has appeared at the Grand Ole Opry more than 40 times, released seven more albums and graced both Kennedy and Lincoln Center stages.

But Gustafson will likely never be known for “Ugly Girl Blues,” his duet with Merle Haggard; his solid songwriting skills; or the grit and endurance that has earned him hubcap-sized rodeo belt buckles. Rather, he will be remembered for a three-note yodel he recorded in 1996 (to the tune of $590) for a thriving Internet operation. That yodel—yaaa-hoooooooooo-oooo, to banjo accompaniment—has now appeared in untold thousands of Yahoo! commercials.  

While such a fate might sour some artists, Gustafson proudly embraces the commercial’s fame.

“It’s only a small part of what I’ve done, but it stood out,” he admits in a recent phone interview. “I have to have fun with it.”

In fact, the clout Gustafson collected for his brief Yahoo! work led him to host a touring yodeling contest.

“I have a deep attachment to the Western culture and I want to revive yodeling,” he says, adding how pleasantly surprised he was by the tour’s reception across the country. “Even in New York City people came out of the woodwork to compete.”

And then he adds earnestly: “It shows me that there is a real interest in this lost art.”

Wylie and the Wild West bring their traditional country sound—and some yodeling—to UM’s University Theatre Friday, Jan. 27, at 8 PM. $15 in advance/$17 day of show. Call 243-4051.

arts@missoulanews.com

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