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Stories and Songs

The Western Jubilee Recording Company and Warehouse Theater is a nationwide hub for cowboy music and poetry.

The Western Jubilee Recording Company and Warehouse Theatre is located in the Colorado Springs historic Santa Fe Railway district.

The Western Jubilee Recording Company and Warehouse Theatre is located in the Colorado Springs historic Santa Fe Railway district.

Photo by Don Kallaus

The Western Jubilee Recording Company and Warehouse Theater in Colorado Springs has great news to share. The iconic 25-year-old record label, which focuses on cowboy music and poetry, has recently been acquired by Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is headquartered in the Capital Gallery Building in Washington, DC.

To celebrate the collaboration, Folkways has just released a new compilation, Take Me Back to the Range: Selections from Western Jubilee Recording Company, on all digital platforms, featuring songs and poems from throughout the label’s history. And Western Jubilee is in very good company as the Folkways collection includes Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and such famous songs as “This Land Is Your Land” and “Midnight Special.”

“I’ve been working on this deal for three years,” says long, tall cowboy Scott O’Malley, the owner of the recording company. “We never have to worry about the Smithsonian going out of business as they have been operating for more than 100 years. The music at Folkways launched in April of this year after four Smithsonian execs, including a curator, came out to Colorado Springs to check us out.”

As a talent agent to more than a dozen Western performers through his recording company as well as owner and proprietor of the Warehouse Theater, septuagenarian Scott O’Malley has turned his childhood love of all things cowboy into a larger-than-life legacy. He manages, records, and continues to release albums and books of poetry by more than a dozen artists whose common thread is their love of old-time music traditions. I met O’Malley 20 years ago and have been told that his demeanor and wardrobe have changed little during the last two decades; he’s still dressed in his trademark cowboy hat, Western-cut blazer, and jeans along with well-maintained, chin-length gray hair and a sometimes scruffy chin.

And clients match the look, including renowned cowboy balladeer Don Edwards and acoustic flatpicking legend Norman Blake, who won a Grammy Award for his featured music in the Coen brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? as well as cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell. “Today, there’s still no artist who can turn a line with the wit, wisdom, and genuine heart as Mitchell…” praises American Cowboy magazine.

Some History

Western Jubilee Recording Company came into existence when O’Malley “inherited” Mitchell and Sons of the San Joaquin after he got on an airplane and went to meet with the artists in Santa Rosa, California. “I started working as an assistant in the ’70s for a talent company in Denver and walked out five years later as an agent, and Waddie and Sons of the San Joaquin were my first clients; this was almost 40 years ago,” O’Malley says.

“I was also a full-time musician for more than 15 years and hated every agent I ever worked with,” he adds. “So I decided to do it differently and just tell my clients—with straight talk—if it’s good news or bad news.”

Growing up during the ’50s in the Indiana Midwest, not exactly an all-things-Western bastion, O’Malley loved to listen to the singing cowboy Gene Autry and watch silver-screen do-gooders, including Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, who would right wrongs in the historic West. Cowboy music, as anyone who’s listened to Marty Robbins or Buck Owens knows, is all about storytelling, usually with a moral lesson slipped into the harmony. O’Malley has been able to turn this lifelong love of all things cowboy and folk life into in a Colorado Springs landmark, one that can perhaps bring some joy and even nostalgia to our present day.

Home on the Range

Western Jubilee is based out of an 1887 former warehouse for the Santa Fe Railroad on Cucharras Street, and it doubles as an intimate concert space and recording studio. Its walls are adorned with Western paraphernalia from old signs and instruments to baseball cards and song folios. The warehouse, much like the label itself, serves as a sanctuary for the deep-rooted and ever-evolving traditions of Western music and folk life.

Many of the soundtracks released by Western Jubilee were recorded in the Warehouse Theater in front of a live audience. It’s often been likened to Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry for much of its life. The Warehouse Theater, like the Western Jubilee label, has become a hub for cowboy music and poetry nationwide. The venue typically stages eight to 10 concerts a year as well as hosting live music for the First Friday Art Walks. O’Malley hopes to reopen this fall, once again filling the historic space with best of traditional cowboy tunes.

Western Jubilee Recording Company and Warehouse Theater: 719.635.7776 / 433 E. Cucharras St.

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