Waddie grew up on ranches in the remote regions of the Elko, Nevada area and came into town only three or four times a year. Waddie was one of the local cowboys who helped organize the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering and has been at Elko each year to help herd it along. Both of these cowboys know what they are reciting about, they have lived and worked their poetry.
"I can't ever remember 'finding' cowboy poetry,"Waddie Mitchell says of the entertaining and enduring art of storytelling. "It was always there. The cowboys sure never called it poetry. I know I wouldn't have liked it if they would have. Seems like an oxymoron, don't it!?"
From his earliest days on the remote Nevada ranches where his father worked, Waddie was immersed in the cowboy way of entertaining, the art of spinnin' tales in rhyme and meter that came to be called cowboy poetry, a Western tradition that is as rich as the lifestyle that gave birth to it. Within his stories, told in a voice that is timeless and familiar, are the common bonds we all share, moments both grand and commonplace, the humorous and the tragic, the life and death straggles and triumphs that we each recognize. And yet, Waddie presents his material with personal insights and the lessons learned during his life spent as a buckaroo.
"All the time I was growing up we had these old cowboys around," he says. :When you live in close proximity like that with the same folks month after month, one of your duties is to entertain each other, and I suppose that's where the whole tradition of cowboy poetry started. You find that if you have a rhyme and a meter to start that story, people will listen to it over and over again," Waddie states in his down-to-earth description of its beginnings.
"When my imagination first got let out of the gate, it was from an old-time cowboy, with a story set to rhyme," he says in his second recording from Warner Western, "Lone Driftin' Rider." By the age of 10, he was reciting poetry himself; at 16, he quit school to follow his heart and went to making his living as a cowboy.
"I'd never done anything else, never made money without horses or cows until I started telling cowboy poetry." The father of five children, ("They're all girls, except four of them!") his goal is to one day buy his own ranch. "I'm hoping," Waddie says, "for the opportunity to go broke on a ranch by myself instead of helping somebody else do it!"
There came a time though, which he relates in his poem "Where To Go", when he had to choose between being a full-time cowboy (he managed a 36,000 acre ranch in Lee-Jiggs, Nevada) and the art form that he loved so much. In 1984, he helped organize the now internationally recognized Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering and gave his first public performance.
Although Waddle didn't think anyone would be interested (he thought it would be a pretty good party for the weekend), the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering was set for a cold, snowy weekend in January. This was one of the only times Waddle and his fellow cowboys had free from ranch duties. More than 2,000 people showed up, and Waddle was off and running.
Since then he has performed internationally for audiences from Los Angeles to New York, Zurich to Melbourne, and all points in between, with television appearances ranging from The Tonight Show (his neighbor took the first phoned invitation, drove 40 miles to deliver the message to the remotely based Waddie and returned with a "No Thanks" because it was calving time and he'd never heard of Johnny Carson), Larry King Live, Good Morning America, TNN, The History Channel, PBS, plus CMT. Waddie has also been featured in People, Life, USA Today, Fortune and National Geographic, along with numerous other appearances, performances, articles and books.
Waddie is winning deeper appreciation of his art as well as international recognition. His series of recordings for Warner Bros. Records' subsidiary label Warner Western and more recently for the Western Jubilee Recording Company have received critical acclaim.
His 1998 release, "Waddie Mitchell Live" for Western Jubilee Recording Company features Don Edwards as well as world class multi-instrumentalists Rich O'Brien and Norman Blake. A glowing review of "Waddie Mitchell Live" appeared in People Magazine, which concludes with "Bottom Line: Horse sense and humor from America's Best Known Cowboy Poet." His busy 1999 touring schedule included the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The excitement created by these concerts resulted in a Western Jubilee recording of Waddie, Don Edwards and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra titled A Prairie Portrait. This recording has spawned additional performances with Don Edwards and the orchestras of Colorado Springs, Denver and Phoenix. At the end of 1999, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a list from a panel of writers, historians and other notables, who selected the Top 20 Artists, Authors and Entertainers To Influence Nevada in the 20th Century. Sure enough pards, there was Waddie!
“We didn’t have electricity and that meant we didn’t have T.V. We had darn poor radio too. So that meant we did the strangest things at night ... we talked to each other!”