Chinook's Overcast is branching out again


A local entertainer, known for his live performance, radio broadcasts and columns, is branching out with the publication of his first book.

Ken Overcast has published a collection of stories from north-central Montana and elsewhere, titled "Yesterday's Yarns."

Overcast will bring copies of the book to his appearance at the Heritage Center Celebrity Luncheon at noon Wednesday, and at an appearance at Norman's Ranch and Sportswear afterward.

Overcast's burgeoning entertainment career is making his other job of ranching more difficult, he said. Overcast ranches near Chinook with his wife, Dawn.

"It kind of takes a back seat sometimes. If we have an engagement two or three states away, I just plan around it," he said.

His current touring schedule keeps him busy.

He comes to Havre after performing in Cody, Wyo., April 4-6. He will travel to Los Angeles May 29 through June 1 to promote "Yesterday's Yarns" nationally and internationally at the Book Expo America annual convention. He has nine other engagements slated between June 11 and Oct. 4, in locations from Caronport, Saskatchewan, to Fort Worth, Texas.

A neighbor helps out with the ranch, putting up hay on shares, and his wife takes care of the cattle when he's away, Overcast said.

"If anything needs to be done, she does it," he said.

Overcast's entertainment career began almost four decades ago.

"I started in high school with a little trio. We played all the night clubs, 300 miles in every direction," he said.

He put a recording and touring career on hold after he married Dawn Olson 37 years ago and started a family.

"Mrs. Lucky, they call her," he added.

Staying close to his family is part of his Western family values, Overcast said.

"You kind of have to cultivate that. It doesn't happen accidentally," he said.

Those values are what his cowboy music and writing are about, he said. Country music seems to focus more on failed love, drinking and other problems, he said.

"There's such a difference between country music and cowboy music. Cowboy music, a lot of it's historical, but a lot of it's the family values we have out here in the West," he said. "(Country music is) life, I guess, but it's more the depressing way of life."

He recorded his first album, a collection of original gospel songs named "Silver and Gold," in 1993. Since then, he has recorded six more albums and remastered "Silver and Gold" as a CD.He also expanded his creative efforts to include a syndicated column named "Meadow Muffins" in 1998 and a syndicated radio show named "The Cowboy Show" in 2002. "Yesterday's Yarns," a collection of "Meadow Muffins" stories, will be in local bookstores following his luncheon Wednesday.

The book is available for sale on his Web site, and will be distributed nationally through two companies, probably hitting shelves by the end of May, Overcast said.

The publication of his music and book has been a very interesting experience for the Overcasts. They created Bear Valley Records and Bear Valley Press to do it themselves.

Overcast said he's glad he has complete control over the production of his work.

"The down side is we're learning as we go," he said. But, "It's a blast. I love doing things I've never done before.

"One of the great things about putting it out ourselves is we don't share the profit with anybody," he added.

That reduces overhead. While not being on a major label or with a major publisher means he doesn't get the promotion someone like Stephen King does, it means less promotion is needed, Overcast said. The book is already in the black and it hasn't been distributed yet, he added.

His albums and performances cover a wide range of formats, and have won Overcast some major awards and nominations.

He's followed his first album with collections of original and cover music, and readings of his "Meadow Muffins" stories.

In 1998, Overcast recorded a collection of original poetry, "Prairie Poetry, Vol. I." That garnered him a first-round nomination for a Grammy award, and a nomination for a Cowboy Poetry Album of the Year award from the Academy of Western Artists.

He earned the Will Rodgers Yodeler of the Year Award from the Academy of Western Artists in 2000, and won the International Cowboy Yodeling Championship at the Western Music Association Festival in Tucson, Ariz., in 1997.

He has been nominated for numerous awards: the Artistic Trailblazer Award at the King Eagle Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., in 1997; Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Gospel Music Guild; the Career Achievement Award at the King Eagle Music Awards in Nashville in 1998; Male Performer of the Year by the Western Music Association in 1999 and 2000; and the Montana Governor's Award for the Arts in 2000.

He is about halfway done writing some songs for a new album he hopes to complete by Christmas.

"I want to do mostly my own stuff on this album," he said.

"Meadow Muffins" was first printed in The Prairie Star, an agricultural newspaper based in Great Falls, and is now syndicated in several print and Internet publications.

"The Cowboy Show" Overcast hosts on radio usually contains one or two of his songs, as well as songs by other artists, and some of his own trademark stories and humor. He also interviews artists, "and old-timers," Overcast said.

The show is syndicated on 16 stations - it airs locally on KPQX at 6 p.m. Sundays - and about a dozen more are waiting to find a time slot for the show, he said.

"It's about the lifestyle all of us live here in the West. Even living in downtown Havre, it's more rural than New York City," he said.

That's the theme of "Meadow Muffins" as well. The stories aren't all from north-central Montana, but most are, Overcast said. He added that he isn't sure how the column got started.

"I don't really know. I had some of these stories bottled up inside me," he said. "Some are things that happened to us, some to neighbors, some just come out of the clear blue sky.

"The vast majority of the stories are based on facts and some are just pure baloney," he added. "Some that are complete truth are the hardest to believe."

He draws on a long family history in Montana. Both Ken and Dawn Overcast are third-generation north-central Montanans. His great-great-uncle homesteaded in the Chinook area in the 1880s, Overcast said.

The Heritage Center luncheon, which starts at noon in the third-floor courtroom, will feature his standard mix of songs, stories and jokes, and he will be available for autographs afterward. His autograph session at Norman's, which starts at 2 p.m., also probably will include a song or two, Overcast said.

To reserve seating at the luncheon, which costs $15, call 265-7258.

On the Net: Ken Overcast:


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