The aura of the West captures in musical form tales of history, myth and legend for listeners. Not only do the tales span the spectrum of genres — humor, faith, love, origin myths and trickster tales — but the storytellers themselves transcend geographical boundaries.
Indeed, Corb Lund comes from a long line of Canadian cowboys and storytellers who ranched in the Rocky Mountains and who were successful in the rodeo world. Originating from generations of ranchers and rodeo folks, he couldn’t help but be influenced by the sway of the West or adopt the frontier persona.
“It’s funny because both sides of my family have a very parallel Western history,” said Corb Lund. “They came up to Alberta from northern Nevada and the Utah area around the turn of the 20th century. My grandpa was probably the last generation to get to ranch without another income. Dad was a large-animal vet so he divvied his time between that and the ranch. I grew up ranching and riding. I do enjoy it when I get to go home and help.”
Lund chronicles his forefathers’ fascinating lives and reveals his own connection to the distinctive sense of Western lore through his music. He touches on a variety of past cowboy themes, such as outlaw tales of the rollicking frontier saloons. But he also takes the West out of the shadows of history, penning ballads about the unpleasant realities of sustaining a modern family ranch.
“I feel like the way that I grew up was similar to the American West and even though they [my ancestors] came from Utah 120 years ago, I feel at home in places like Montana. There is more of a cultural connection between north and south, Montana, Wyoming and Ontario. Montana is close to heart. It’s only five miles over the border from where my grandparents’ homesteaded and my grandfather was a road gambler in Butte in the 1890s.”
Lund was born in 1969 in Taber, Alberta. His father, Darwin Clark “DC” Lund (1937-2013), was a champion bulldogger, a mounted cowboy who tackles a full-grown steer. He was also a Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer who served on the CPRA board in 1974 and ’75. His mother Patty Lund (born Ivins) was also named a Pioneer of the Calgary Stampede, having been the first barrel racing champion of the event in 1959. One generation deeper, Corb’s grandfather, Clark Lund (1905-1983), won the All-Around in Calgary in 1939. Among these influences young Corb absorbed and tightly integrated the sounds of country crooners into his personal economy.
“Marty Robbins is Ground Zero for me and the gunfighter ballads. For my family, too. I can remember one song I heard at age 8 and my grandfather sang those songs for fun. Once the work is all done and the wrangling is done, you can sing a few songs. Me and my buddies had been playing guitar at 15 and we got into rock 'n’ roll in our teens. None of the people in my family were musicians and my grandpa sang less for a career and more out of personal entertainment, which had nothing to do with anything but transmitting oral history.”
The gritty fighter in Lund took to the road with his guitar and tapped into the never-ending circuit of performing at casinos, cafés and bars. Successfully drawing from the experiences of a distant land, Lund’s repertoire of songs has since expanded and flourished.
“A lot of my stuff is old school and cattle-down-the-dusty-trail type stuff, even though it’s got its roots in the 21st century. There is a lot about family history and a lot set in old-fashioned Western settings, and that’s where the songs evolve from. That is their backdrop. … In Europe there is a great interest in the West, and in North America I will see a lot of ranchers and cowboys at the shows, as well as a lot of people who might also listen to Steve Earle. In Europe they are interested in the songwriting and a lot more of the kitschy stuff and costumes. It’s a lot like the West there [in Europe] is similar to a medieval fair here or something. “
Lund’s music seeks to preserve the last glimmers of the “old frontier.” Tightly crafted, with a clearly modern edge, the stories of Lund give voice to men, young and old, overlooked and disenfranchised, who inhabit milieus that feel at once strange and familiar. Singing about the life that he knows has resulted in a tighter bond with rural audiences. In addition, Lund’s music appeals to mainstream country lovers’ tastes.
“There are a lot of rural people at my shows who are connecting with that lifestyle. But I’ve got country fans, too. I’m lucky to have my foot in both camps and bringing them together, so there is no division. I do like all kinds of music and some of the records are diverse. I try to find new sounds and wider tastes; though we are grounded in country, a few other things are mixed up in there.”
While Lund, who is backed by his longtime honky-tonk band, The Hurtin’ Albertans, consistently plays county fairs and other outdoor rural staples, he finds consolation inside the limits of a warm-bodied, sticky-floored saloon.
“I like the dark themes of the music and the range of emotional expression in them. We have some fun when they are dark — dark and rocking. I’m most at home in a saloon playing honky-tonk, with an old-fashioned organic sound. The records are OK, but the live show is the reason that we do this.”
Brian D’Ambrosio is a freelance writer and author who is based in Helena. His next book, “Montana Entertainers: Famous and Almost Forgotten,” will be available in May 2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org