Ron Chant fell in love with country music as a boy growing up on a dairy farm in New Mexico, where he would sit in front of a small radio in his parents’ barn on Saturday nights to catch the latest songs from Johnny Horton, the Kershaw Brothers, a young Elvis Presley and many more on the famed Louisiana Hayride Show.
That passion eventually led him to songwriting. Over the past several decades, he’s filled several notebooks with lyrics that tell poignant, and in some cases, heartbreaking, stories about his life. He believes that some of his songs are “garbage,” in his words, but also believes that some of them are really good.
He dreamed about sharing them with the world for many years.
“If I could hear just one of my songs on the radio, (I’d) be ready to die happy,” said Chant, an 80-year-old Washougal resident. “It’s every songwriter’s dream. I heard a songwriter describe songwriting and compared it to giving birth. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, but it’s close.”
Chant’s dream finally came true on Wednesday, Jan. 18, when his song, “Worn Out Cowboy Blues,” performed by country musician Dennis Lowery, debuted on Outlaw Country, a nonprofit radio station.
Volunteer disc jockey Sam Morris, also known as “DJ Hondo,” played the song as part of his StoneJax Radio Show, which broadcasts live from the Washougal Times restaurant from 4 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday.
“I’m still floating along on cloud nine, I’m not sure what’s going on anymore,” Chant said the following week. “I’ve waited a long time for this. Hell, I’d given up. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen. I knew I had some good stuff. I knew I had some songs that could be recorded, and I wanted the world to hear them. I just needed one (person to say ‘yes’).”
It all started one day several months ago, when Chant randomly discovered Outlaw Country while scanning his radio dial on his drive home.
“I heard Johnny Cash (singing),” Chant said. “Sam was doing a live broadcast. I turned around really quick and came down here (to the Washougal Times) to talk to him.”
Chant told Morris about his songs and his dream of getting at least one of them on the radio, but didn’t exactly get his hopes up.
“Every time I had a chance to let somebody hear one of my songs, I did,” Chant said. “I entered songwriting contests, did anything that I could do to try to get (on the radio) somewhere, but nothing happened. And I didn’t have any faith when I came down here, either. I figured I could talk to (Sam), but that would be just another dead end.”
Morris was intrigued by Chant’s proposal.
“I had a connection with Ron — cowboy hat, cowboy boots, belt buckle, fixed blade knife, a flatbed pickup truck,” said Morris, referring to a few of Chant’s signature possessions. “I just went with the flow and used my instincts. If Ron’s going to take the time to come down here and learn more about the station and learn more about what the possibilities are as a songwriter to get his songs on the radio, I wanted to see what we could do.”
Almost immediately, Morris thought of Lowery, a former Washougal resident who used to perform at the Washougal Times.
“We had the songs, the radio (broadcast), the DJ — what else would we need? We need a singer,” Morris said. “It didn’t take long to at least think of Dennis. He’s a friend of mine and an outlaw country singer. It was a natural connection.”
Morris called Lowery, a construction superintendent based in northern California, and asked if he would be willing to record one of Chant’s songs.
“My first instinct was, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do it,'” Lowery said. “Sam sent me some of his lyrics, and I was like, ‘This stuff is actually pretty good. I could do this.’ Instantly I was thinking Merle Haggard, Hank Willliams Sr., Hank Williams Jr. — that kind of sound.
“(‘Worn Out Cowboy Blues’) is a story of how he’s feeling at his age right now. There’s a line in there about how (the narrator) goes into a bar and sees a blonde coming through the door, and she sits down and tells him that he’s cute in his hat and boots, and he reminds her of her grandpa, and that just makes him feel like crap. He’s like, ‘I’m too old. But I used to be a wild bull rider and chase the girls down. I was awesome.’ The vision of how he was feeling at the time drew me in, (even though) I’m not as old as he is.”
Lowery wasn’t able to record the song right away due to his job responsibilities and other obligations, but became inspired after listening to Morris’ “Hearing Is Fun” podcast, featuring Chant, on Jan. 14
“That’s when my eyes kind of popped,” Lowery said. “I realized, ‘Oh, crap, (Sam) just promised him that I would (record his song). Let’s not make him wait that much longer.'”
Later that night, Lowery sang the song over the phone to his producer, Ronn Chick, who lives in Virginia. Chick provided some feedback and came up with a “backup track good enough to get some lyrics on,” according to Lowery.
The singer purchased some time at a local recording studio the next day to record the song, which he then sent to Chick for final production work.
“It’s really cool to be able to do that for somebody,” Lowery said. “I remember the first time I got one of my songs on the radio and how exciting that was. It’s happened often enough to where I forget the excitement that’s there and what it really means, but this was definitely a reminder. You could tell how important this was to Ron. If nothing happens in my career, if nothing blows up out of it, (I can still point to this as) a huge accomplishment in my eyes. That’s right there on the resume — I made this guy’s dreams come true.”
When Chant came down to the Washougal Times on Wednesday, Jan. 16, to sing acapella versions of some of his songs that would be recorded and posted toYouTube, Morris told him that Lowery had finished recording “Worn Out Cowboy Blues” and that it would be played on-air that night.
Chant left and returned later that night with his daughter and son-in-law, eagerly anticipating the big moment. After Morris played the song, he took his iPhone and Facebook Live feed downstairs to film Chant’s reaction.
“I looked at my daughter over on the other side of the table and she was crying, and that set me off,” Chant said. “We cried it out.”
Chant is now revisiting his older tunes and reworking them in the hopes of making them radio-ready.
Lowery said he may be willing to record more of Chant’s songs.
“Of course, the material’s got to be there for it to work, but from what I’ve seen so far, I think it is,” Lowery said. “What else is a song but somebody’s life experience that’s going to be relatable to somebody else? … It’s three chords and the truth. It’s life stories that mean something to somebody else. It sounds to me like he’s got stories to tell, and if I can help (him), by all means, I’ll do what I can.”
Chant visits the Outlaw studio to sing his songs, which Morris records and posts in the hopes of gaining greater visibility.
“If the idea is getting more of his songs on the radio, then people have to see and hear the songs to get attention (of singers and producers),” Morris said. “We are steadily going through each song. Ron would be the first to admit he’s not a singer, but he sings good enough to sing the melody. We don’t have set expectations. It’s a pursuit — a journey. And it’s fun to team up.”
Morris recently established a GoFundMe page to raise donations for recording and producing costs, and Chant pledged to give one of his handmade belt buckles to every person who gives to the cause.
“We’ve definitely got good energy and a good vibe,” Morris said. “The human resources are in place. The expertise is in place. I think with positive attitudes and momentum, we can keep it going. But it’s a matter of time and resources. There are hard costs associated with recording songs. (The GoFundMe) is about the only way we can keep it going. We’re all ears for ideas to get the resources to pay for a studio and production time.”
Thanks in part to the efforts of Morris and Lowery, Chant has found a renewed sense of purpose and is more optimistic than ever.
“I’m a big believer in destiny,” Chant said. “Now that I’ve got one (song on the radio), anything is possible.”
To view the GoFundMe page, visit gofundme.com, then search for “Ron Chant.” To listen to Chant’s podcast conversations with Morris, visit anchor.fm/hearingisfun. To watch videos of Chant singing his songs, visit youtube.com/@stonejaxlife/videos.