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Montana Rose

Montana Rose plays American music, and they are good enough to pay attention to. Like most great American bands, they are steeped in blues, country, folk, roots rock, and all the many forms our music has taken, and of it they make new music.

Montana Rose is western music, and the west is where America does its best dreaming. Wallace Stegner said that “the west is the Native Home of Hope…” and in their songs there are glances at the past and hope for the future. Broken hearts heal, legends never die, and it is worth it to go on.

Claudia Williams isn’t just a singer, she’s a sorceress, able to find phrasing and emphases which suit each song.

Montana Rose, forged in the crucible of cowboy bars throughout the Rocky Mountain West, is arguably one of the top cowboy bar bands playing today. With eight recordings available world wide, and their songs playing on the radio in more than 30 countries, Montana Rose has come to embody the spirit of “Americana”. A harmonious union of the most recognizable genres of American music blended into a unique western style.

Montana Rose is an aggregation of musical ideals that is a culmination of a lifetime of living and playing music in Montana and the American West. The fulfillment of this musical dream allows them to be true to their artistic spirits, and this synergy of lifestyle and art is unmistakable in Montana Rose’s pure and simple sound. This sound has become highly evolved in the 20 years they have been playing music, and is ever changing. Their sound and the stories they tell are a direct reflection of the rhythm of life in the Big Sky Country. Montana Rose. Authentic American Music.

Peter Bowen



Claudia Appling Williams: Vocal and Guitar, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, I used to love hearing my mother sing, so it’s in my blood. After hearing the first Patsy Cline album, I was hooked. I got my first guitar at 12 years old and I’ve been playing and singing since. My first influences were Patsy Cline, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald and Emmy Lou Harris. I enjoy all genre's of music, but lean toward lyrical pieces that tell life’s stories and it's many roads and challenges. Now I love singing to my children & grandchildren.

Claudia has been singing in the Big Sky Country most of her life. As the lead singer of Montana Rose, she is following her dream of songwriting and interpreting songs of others that speak to her soul. She enjoys telling the stories of life and love in the west, sharing tales that most just dream about. A true Montana Icon, born and raised in the west and carrying on the culture in music. She interprets standards such as "Walking after Midnight," "I Fall to Pieces," " Sweet Dreams" and others with an erotic tenderness that's less country than it is late-night hip. A little folk, country and blues, it's American roots music.

She has played in most states in the West and worked and recorded in Nashville for the last 25 years, always drawn back to her home in the Rocky Mountains. She loves sharing stories and real life situations in her songs that most folks only dream about. She is a song interpreter, singing songs her fellow songwriters have written and writing and recording her share of hand penned songs. With 8 CD's recorded, her music has been shared all over the world.


Todd Silas


Rick Philipp

Name a city and a style of music, and chances are, Rick Philipp has been there and played it. His superb drumming and adventurous spirit have taken him from his early days in Minneapolis playing in Greek, Polish, and German bands, to San Francisco, where he teamed up with survivors of the psychedelic era to play gay bars, strip clubs, and after-hour joints. Rick even did a stint in Nashville, where he worked what he affectionately calls the “toupee circuit”, backing up aging Opry stars at state and county fairs and pursuing the perfect corn dog. After a move to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Rick continued playing in a variety of bands, and seriously honed his skiing skills, eventually teaching both skiing and snow boarding. Rick says all these moves were in preparation for moving to Montana and working with Montana Rose, which he says is “a perfect marriage of my love of anything that shuffles and a desire to play for the song, combined with like-minded musicians, each with deeply developed skills, natural talents and equally diverse backgrounds.” Welcome home, Rick!


Big Sky Weekly's Chuck Denison

The Big Sky Weekly’s

Chuck Denison

Best known in Big Sky as the pastor of the Presbyterian Community Church USA is a writer for “Jazziz” and “Just Jazz Guitar” magazines. He is the Weekly’s music correspondent.

It started when Kenny Williams decided to take up the Bass. He was 17. He found an old Kay stand up Bass in pieces in the back of a music store, took it home, put it together, and started to play.

Having grown up a nomad, living all around the country, he chose to go to school in Missoula, where he could enjoy both the beauty and lifestyle of Montana, and a good music school. He intended to learn classical bass. Around the same time, a relative passed away and left Kenny an odd bequest -- he inherited a banjo.

Somehow the stand up bass and the banjo combined with the winds of change in the 1970’s, and before long Kenny was playing country. He wasn’t just playing -- he got good. Good enough to anchor the house band at Big Sky Resort for half a decade. He says it was a dream job, “Playing music, skiing and kayaking -- what could be better?”

Maybe it was ambition, maybe it was destiny that moved him away, but off they went, five aspiring young musicians, moved to Music Row in Nashville.

Nashville was good to Kenny. He was working regularly, pulling down lots of studio work and playing at local clubs like the Bluebird and the Chile Shack. Meanwhile fate was at play as well.

Claudia arrived in Nashville with a friend who was working with country star Kathy Matthea. She too found rewarding work and was eventually offered a recording contract with RCA. She was “making it in Nashville.” But one night at the Chile Shack Kenny met Claudia. They remained in Nashville for over three years, enjoying the work, the friends, and the buzzing excitement of making music in the country music capital. But something wasn’t working.

The problem was their mutual love for the West. Children of missionaries and forest rangers, they had both grown up all over the country, they both wanted their children to have sense of home and roots, and they wanted those roots to be in the West. So they came back home -- to Montana. By 1988 they were settling in. For a brief spell that meant jobs with the forestry service and an occasional commute to Music City, but they both knew they could make it work out here. They gathered a circle of friends, and from their friends, the band took shape.

Today some of the staple Montana Rose personnel go back 30 years with Kenny. Rick Winking has been on guitar with them for thirteen years. Today daughter Molly is 20, Tess is 17 and Luke is 15. Today Montana Rose can count on playing as many gigs as they can squeeze in to a busy schedule. And they can stay that busy without touring. Montana Rose is a classic dirtbagger success story. They came to the Big Sky country with little but desire and talent and the knowledge of where and how they wanted to live. Today they are one of the most popular bands in the state.

Kenny admits he is looking forward to a little hunting when October slows things down. But they won’t slow much for these creative musicians. Fall will bring more studio time, more experiments pushing the edges out, always working to keep the music fresh and exciting. Kenny sees that as especially important, when so many of their fans are repeat customers. When Montana Rose plays a local concert, the audience is often full of friends and fans who can sing along as well as dance to the music. So Kenny and Claudia strive to keep their audience on their toes with new ideas and instruments and songs. Their studio is now completed, and Kenny says, lock him in and he’ll love it.

Claudia and Kenny love living in Montana. They love playing their music. They are living their dream. It is a unique dream, and a wonderful one, and they feel blessed every day. As Kenny put it:
“Life is not about what you want to be, or what you used to be -- it is what you do every day. When you get up in the morning -- what do you want to do?”

Montana Rose Live

Now I understand! After a year of hearing about Montana Rose and listening to their CD’s, last night I finally got to experience Montana Rose live. They turned the Corral into an intimate party, a stomping dance floor, a busy bar, a family reunion and an impromptu Match.com. In other words, they turned the place upside down.

Husband and wife Kenny and Claudia Williams front a band featuring the solid lead guitar of Rick Winking, Kenny on Bass, and Claudia on acoustic guitar and vocals, with two drummers keeping time on trap set (Mark Wittman) and congas (Mark Dixon).

The sound is flawless – the band is perfect on covers ranging from old Blind Faith songs to Patsy Cline, and on into their original material. But there is more to this event than a tight band. Somehow standing so close to enthusiastic two-steppers that Claudia had to remind her audience that the band was hoping to go home with all their teeth, she engages and energizes the room with a charisma that goes beyond good music. How do you explain that?

First there is the voice. Claudia has everything a Western singer needs. There is a gutsy edge to here voice, when needed. She can break your heart on a tender ballad, then fire your feet with another stomper. When she sings Patsy Cline, …. I know, I know it’s a cliché … But you’d swear Patsy was there. (Check out their recent tribute CD – Dear Patsy.) So start with a strong, confident voice.

Next add the charm. She is cute, funny, engaging and endearing on stage. Her long brown hair swims across her back and shoulders as she sings. Between songs she laughs and talks to her audience as if they are her best friends. And some of them are.

That is another key component to Montana Rose live. The fact is, after some fifteen years in the business, Montana Rose has a loyal following of devoted fans and friends. You’ll see Claudia hugging friends, dancing on the floor and chatting up the place on every break. Their audience knows what to expect and comes with open heart to listen, dance, sing along, and enter in to a musical experience.

Add the band. They lack nothing. There are no outbreaks of dazzling virtuosity, no divas out to impress the world. This ain’t jazz. What you get is a solid pad of sound, the perfect platform for Claudia’s shimmering vocals, and some very tight three part harmonies. And that thoroughly professional, unflappable band allows Claudia the spontaneity to flirt and tease her audience with her big smile and ready wit.

Claudia tells me they are busy all summer, playing six nights a week around South Central Montana. They are often booked at The Mint in Belgrade and Chico Hot Springs as well as the Corral and lots of private functions.

Don’t miss the chance to see the legend live.

Country Music by Dave Carty
Born Again at the Laundromat
And Other Visions of the American West

By Dave Carty

Country Music

This morning I watched a squat, bald man in a navy-blue business suit plunge a pitchfork into a bale of alfalfa. Wedges of hay sloughed off like sections of a croissant, one of which he flipped to a pair of quarter horses. The horses live next door on the Bar Eagle "Ranch", a one-acre spread of fenced dandelions that surround a plywood lean-to and pole corral. As near as I can tell, the horses stay in the corral, period. The man tossed more hay to the horses, then tiptoed through the manure to a waiting van, a soul redeemed from three-martini lunches. Is this a real cowboy? Here under our large sky the suburbs are alive with the sound of George Strait, and sometimes it's hard to tell. I have learned to enjoy country and western music on its own terms, not mine, because for many, many years all I could get on my truck was an AM country station. Once I also got an oldies station, but the radio went on the fritz and that was that. I felt as though it had willfully undergone a partial laryngectomy, and its treachery stabbed at my heart.

My roommate, the first in a succession of surly transients, had a VCR but no stereo, so I was stuck. I had sold my own stereo before I moved down here. But I've adjusted. Although it's hard to come to terms with the nasal wails of the Porter Wagner era, I have learned, to my chagrin, that country music is big business these days.

This is not news to its artist, most of whom were born in tar-paper shacks in Appalachia, and who nevertheless have parlayed their barefoot days into the big time. Believe it or not, there's rhyme and meter to all this and it grows on you. On the other hand, I've always liked Merle Haggard, but Buck Owens is pushing things. I can't account for this except that Buck Owens was a regular on "Hee Haw", a C&W variety show consummated over the dead bodies of all who stand for sensible and intelligent television programming. When the show finally went off the air the bib overall set must have sighed with relief. With corn prices in the toilet and Nixon in the White House, they'd had enough.

Today, as I shop at Safeway, country muzak wafts between the rows of diet salad dressing and Rice-A-Roni. Later, "Country Count Down" lifts above a fog of nitrous oxide as the dentist hacks at my gums. It seems that to get real country music these days, you have to go to a bar. Thirty years ago, the club down the road fronted the last whorehouse in the Gallatin Valley. But long before the prefab log homes moved in up the street, the cathouse went out of business, as have so many other American institutions of late.

I doubt if the place has changed much since then; above the plank flooring, black-and-white photographs of bronc and bull riders still line the walls, curled and yellow inside their chipped frames. The only color photograph is of bull rider Jim Shoulders and his pet Brahma, Buford T. Lite, autographed by Shoulders himself. Above the pool table in the back, there's a photo of a buffalo dashing off a twenty-foot tower into a pool of water. Why would a buffalo do this? You have to wonder how deep the water is.

The ranchers and their hands are the first to arrive, and from late afternoon on they squat on the stools nearest the door. Like cowboys everywhere, they keep their hats on and their long sleeves buttoned at the cuff. In one corner sits a loner in full regalia---silk scarf, pearl snap shirt, walrus mustache, and full-length canvas slicker. He sips on a Budweiser, frowning beneath a tan Resistol. Several young women have clustered near the jukebox, chatting among themselves, studiously avoiding looking at the men perched ten feet away. One, a woman in tight red Wranglers and high-heel boots, has the taut thighs of a figure skater and the face of Emmylou Harris. It's hard not to stare. I order a beer from the bartender, a woman the size of a dirigible.

"Who's playing tonight?" I ask nodding toward the musicians on stage.
"Montana Rose."
"Where they from?"
"Don't know."

The Montana rose band is definitely country. The bassist has shoulder-length hair and a mustache, and he's flanked by a drummer who has tied his blond hair back in a ponytail. I like ponytails; they're as much the trademark of rednecks as radicals in these modern times, and you can check the roster of the NRA on that one. During moments of rebellion, I've thought of growing one myself. I may still. It's a free country.

I've seen the guitar player before; later I learn that he is sitting in with the group for the weekend. The singer is striking---a handsome rather than pretty woman, with high cheekbones and a brief profile. In the orange floodlights she looks part Indian, and may well be of that blood. She likes the song they're about to play, she says; her husband the bass player sang it to her on the night they married. For just a moment the chatter in the bar subsides while the drummer counts the backbeat. Then the bass thumps and music surges through the speakers, and couples edge onto the dance floor.

Since that night I've tried to recall that first song. Was it Haggard? McEntire? But I cannot remember any more than I can forget that woman's voice. How could she have lived to have sung like that? Within an hour the place is jumping. College students from the university in town have been filtering in for most of the night, and promptly at eleven a squad of businessmen and their wives arrive. The dance floor ripples with the choreographed spinning of couples, the arms of the men pumping to the backbeat. As always, I watch the dancers with a detachment that mask my terror at being asked to dance. But I can dance to rock and roll, I remind myself. And, in fact, not everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Some of the men frown with concentration, their dips and spins as preordained as a bad loan. with ranching what it is (and always has been), you'd think they'd find this one little thing to be happy with.

Ah, well. It's easy to coach from the bench. Women flit between jukebox and dance floor, most clinging to the broad but short men whose shoulders swell beneath pearl snap shirts. Most are bull riders, limbering up for the rodeo next week. One woman stands with her back to me, tossing back a cascade of platinum hair. As she turns, our eyes meet and she smiles. Then she's off to the dance floor leaving me straining for another look. Her partner is a good dancer who likes to keep the pace up. Once upon a time I two-stepped around a barroom floor with a patient gall who didn't mind an occasional pinched toe.

As with most of the patient women in my life, I dropped her as though she were rabid. Where is she now? When the music stops the blond drifts to the corner and sits down with the silk-scarfed cowboy I'd seen earlier. Apparently they know each other. "And now I'd like to do an old Patsy Cline song," the singer says. She smiles at the bass player, taps her foot and eases into "I Fall To Pieces". This cues the less intimate to exit the dance floor, but a half dozen couples remain, revolving slowly in and out of the glow surrounding the stage. In the corner, the blond rises and extends a hand to the cowboy, and the two of them slide out of the shadows and into the half light.

The blond and I could be happy together. I want to marry a woman like that, a cowgirl with Dura-coat fingernails and flossed teeth. We'd buy a ranch on the West Boulder River. I'd punch cows during the day and two-step on the veranda at night. We'd build a log bunkhouse. We'd raise good bird dogs. We'd be poor but there would always be food on the table, and our children would be secure in our love.

Above the music the singers voice carries, and one by one the people
in the bar pause to listen. The dancers slow and then shuffle in place, and the bartender leans against the counter, her bulldog arms braced against the rail, heads swivel toward the stage. As the music fades, the woman's voice ascends, singular and fine, and when at last she drops her gaze there is a momentary vacuum as everyone in the room sucks in his breath. Then the walls come apart. "Why that just gave me goose bumps,"
the bartender says. Never could I have danced to that.

When the blond walks back to the corner her cowboy follows, and draped down the back of his slicker, like a zipper on the wrong side of his coat, is a braided ponytail. Who would have guessed?

Born Again At The Laundromat; And Other Visions Of The New West

Dave Carty
Lyons & Burford, Publishers 1992

To get permission to reproduce this story:

Lyons & Burford
31 West 21 Street
New York,NY 10010

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