Distinguished West Texas A&M alumnus, poet and singer Red Steagall enchanted an audience of over 300 Thursdays with his stories and songs of the American West at the campus’s Legacy Hall. Steagall was named the official cowboy poet of Texas by the state legislature in 1991 and was named Poet Laureate for the state in 2006.
Steagall, an icon of cowboy culture, graduated from WT with an animal science and agronomy degree. Soon after, he moved on from his career in agriculture to pursue his musical dream in Hollywood. At age 15, he had been stricken with polio, which led him to pick up guitar playing as a therapy for recovery; his misfortune would be a keystone for his long musical career. He would record more than 20 albums and four books of poetry in a distinguished career that has spanned over half a century.
Asked about how his childhood affliction altered his career path, Steagall reflected on his road traveled.
“Having polio and having to adjust because I lost the muscles in my shoulder made a big difference in my world, because I had to learn to adapt,” Steagall said. “I could no longer be like everyone else; I was different. Just Because it doesn’t work for you does not mean it doesn’t work for me. So I have learned to adjust, and if I hadn’t had polio, I wouldn’t have done that. I would have gone on to be a veterinarian. That was my goal in life. It would have been a good life but different. I do not take the bad things as negative. I find the positive in life; going down the road of life, we only get one shot at There is no such thing as an encore.”
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Steagall said that while at WT, he met many people with the same interests in cowboy music and after graduating, he got a call from a friend that he grew up with, Don Lanier, to get help with his music. He said he left his chosen career at the time, and he packed up his brand new, maroon and white Chevy Impala Supersport with U-Haul trailer attached and moved to Hollywood.
After a short time, Steagall said that his being so new to the culture and business, he would have moved right back if he had the money, but then he found success with his songs, most notably early with Ray Charles performing “Here We Go”. Again,” which was a building block of his career.
When asked about possible advice for those trying to figure out their career paths, Steagall said he was not sure that he was qualified to give advice on that but gave these words of wisdom:
“In my opinion, the only thing that makes people successful is taking chances — being sure that you put your best foot forward at all times. Make sure that everything you do is the best you could do, so that you do not have to look back and say ‘I wish I had done that’. Go forward with the knowledge that you did the best that you could do. Take time and study and analyze what you want to do, and figure out precisely what you want to do. Be yourself. Don’t try to be anybody else. There is only one of you; take advantage of that.”
Steagall stated that our differences make us better people.
“You have the ability to know the difference between right and wrong; we have the ability to express our own opinions. We only advance with excellence, not mediocrity,” he said.
Thinking about why he did not take courses in music rather than agriculture, Steagall said that it made him the person and artist he is today. He said he loved the business and the people of agriculture.
“As time goes on, I realize now that my audience has always been the agrarian society, the people who belong to the land, not people who own it; they are still my audience,” Steagall added. “I always wanted to be in show business. I always wanted to be a showman. I loved poetry, and I loved to sing.”
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Steagall said that cowboys honor heritage, tradition, and a set of values. These values include honesty, integrity, loyalty, work ethic, dedication to family, conviction to your belief in God, and practicing common decency and respect for your fellow man every day you live.
“Cowboy values are important because it is how we treat each other. We cannot get along if we do not treat others good, if we do not use kindness and respect for other people,” Steagall said. “Be aware of their needs and look at their side of the story. We need disagreement to see both sides of a story and get the whole picture. We get myopic if we only see one side of the story. We can disagree; it’s healthy. It’s not healthy to be poisonous. We have to learn the same things our ancestors did; we got along. We depended on each other for survival. We have become a ‘me’ society rather than a ‘we’ society.”
Asked which music artists he admired, Steagall praised Garth Brooks, George Strait and Reba McEntire, an artist he discovered and brought to the spotlight.
“I love country music and love the people, but I am passionate about cowboy music,” Steagall said.
Jerry Don Thompson, a longtime fan whose dad was a college friend of Steagall, spoke about getting the chance to see him perform once again.
“I fell in love with his passion for the Western heritage and the Panhandle,” Thompson said. “It was quite a special evening to see a legend here in Legacy Hall where Steagall’s roots are from.”
Thompson feels that we can take so many lessons from Western heritage.
“The Western heritage is strong in faith, courage and principles that matter,” Thompson said. “These are foundational rocks for the future that one can take away from the Western heritage as a path for success.”
Dr. Lance Kieth, department head of agricultural education, said that Steagall’s message, to the audience and students alike, was an inspiration to succeed.
“It is awesome to see someone that worked his way through school here,” Kieth said. “He hitchhiked to even go to school here. I just kept plugging away. He showed our kids there are no excuses; show up, work hard and do what you are supposed to do. He is a living testament to that as someone who had a lot of strikes against him and succeeded.”