Western Performer’s New Song Captures Nevada’s Landscape and Spirit

This country gets into your blood, and the smell of the sage and and just the incredible mysteriousness of Nevada.

This year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko may be over, but a new song all about Nevada is here to stay. Mike Beck is a singer/songwriter and performer who is a mainstay at the Gathering, and he’s got a new song, called Nevada is King.

Music correspondent Will Houk caught up with Mike at this year’s Gathering and brings us this conversation about the new track and Mike’s connection to Nevada.


Will Houk: I’d love if you could just talk about that song, “Nevada is King.” I love the verse about the Ruby Mountains. I love the Ruby Mountains. And I just love if you could talk a little bit about that song.

Mike Beck: I was born and raised in Monterey, California. And I had some friends that were a little older than me that had cowboys up here in northeastern Nevada, and got me a job on this place called the Spanish Ranch, which is family-owned, over 2 million acres. And there was like, 20,000 mother cows, this is a big place. And they ran a wagon there in the spring. And in the fall, in the spring, we’d make a whole circle of this entire ranch, [and we’d] be out there for about three months, branding calves seven days a week. So, we gathered them – there’s no fencing – you gather them, and it’s called ‘Holding Road’ deer. We hold them all up.

And, you know, it was like a Zen retreat, because there’s no phone, and this was in the 70s when I first came, and so you get mail, maybe once a month or something. But, it was really cool, I made 10 bucks a day. And man, you were just camped out there and there was a cook, you know, and we slept in our bed rolls, you know, and we would stay in one place for a while and gather that whole country. Then we moved camp, we brought around 150 saddle horses with us.

So this this was like my Yale, my Harvard my ‘two years before the mast.’ I did it for a couple years there and then I went some other places in northeastern Nevada. And this country gets into your blood, and the smell of the sage and just the incredible mysteriousness of Nevada. I mean, its history is beautiful. And so, I got lucky with that song, and it’s one of the songs I wrote and I go, ‘That’s okay.’ And other people go, ‘Oh, no, that’s a good one.’ So I had fun cutting it. And it turned out really, really swell. I was really happy with turned out actually.

So, you grew up in Monterey. Did you grow up doing cowboy stuff at all? Or is that kind of your introduction to that world?

My mom was from Alberta and we lived outside of town. So we had our horses. I got horses when I was in third grade. So, I was like this weirdo that rode every day after school and on the weekends. And there’s a ranch across from us there. Clint Eastwood owns that land now and has gotten some homes and a golf course there. We could ride all the way over to Carmel Valley.

And then I fell in with a guy, well, his daughter, [and I] would play some guitar with her. We play you know, Joan Baez songs, Woody Guthrie songs and pound guitars. So, her dad and mom and her whole family had a horse operation on Carmel Valley, and so I went to up there to clean some stalls. I said, ‘If your dad ever needs the help, I need to make some money,’ and so I went up there [to] clean some stalls and then I saw him starting a horse, getting the horse ready to ride, and I’d never seen [that] before – and I was fascinated. I was quite shy back then, and so I asked her dad, ‘Can I come back? Are you going to be doing this tomorrow?’ He says yeah, and I said, ‘Can I come watch?’ He said yeah, and so that started it, through him. He was very influenced by and spent time with the Dorrance brothers, Tom and Bill Dorrance, who changed the way people think about and work with horses. Their influence was incredible and they are considered ‘the dudes,’ that had this new approach on working with horses and cattle that was very fitting. I was blessed to grow up near them. I lived with them. I wasn’t really interested in school much, and when I look back on it now, [it was] an old fashion mentorship.

But, I didn’t cowboy until I came up here riding horses you know, and when I was up here, [with] these guys that were older than me and we had a blast.

I love the verse about the Ruby Mountains, and I love the Rubies as well. I’m just wondering what your connection with that was. Was that from cabling or or hiking, camping? What’s your connection to the rubies?

When I worked over here in Deeth, Nevada on an outfit that had 10,000 head of steers, I could look up and see the Rubies and, you know, it’s just, I’ve been up there. I’ve played in a ranch on the other side in Clover Valley and going up into them (someday I’d love to hike that Ruby Crest Trail sometime).

You go up there and [it’s] like you’re in Colorado or something, you know. It’s all the ‘quakies’ (Quaking aspen) and the water running up there. It’s gorgeous. And you know, I’ve been around the state, and there’s mountain ranges, I mean, Nevada is amazing. There’s more mountain ranges, you probably know, than any other state. In the end, there’s more mountain ranges in Nevada than Afghanistan. So, that was a little factoid somebody gave me.

I think this place is beautiful. And it’s a place where there’s so much public land, we’re blessed to have that, to get out on horseback or hike or just go out there and go to hot springs (if you can find one)and, you know, yeah, it’s beautiful. This place is amazing.

It really is. I have some friends from Montana and that’s one of the things that a bunch who have moved here say. One of the reasons is the outdoors and the access to just everything. Like, it’s not like this in Montana, you can just go anywhere you want. There’s a lot of open land in Montana, but a lot of it’s owned, you know. That’s one of the beautiful things about this state.

Sure is man, this place is amazing.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.

Will Houk covers the music scene for The Ally. He is the host of the radio show and podcast “Roots, Rednecks, and Radicals.” The weekly radio show airs weekly on KNVC 95.1 FM Carson City Community Radio and features the best of Americana, folk, and roots music. His podcast takes a deep dive into modern roots music featuring in-depth interviews with recording artists. A lover of music and the outdoors, Will was raised in Northern Nevada. He now calls Carson City home with his wife Jes, and son William. He’s a teacher at Carson High School where he has taught Social Studies for 18 years. Here’s a link to his podcast –  “Roots, Rednecks, and Radicals” Podcast and Radio Show  Take a moment and support Will’s work for the Ally here.

Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication with no paywall, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, offering unique, differentiated reporting, factual news, civics information, and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers; please donate here.


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top