When Gary Sprague and Dusty saunter into Rusty Spur Saloon in Old Town Scottsdale, heads turn as Sprague quips Toby Keith’s line, “Whiskey for my men and beer for my horse.”
You see, Sprague is Arizona’s Singing Cowboy and Dusty is his horse. And this stop at the bar is the last on a three-hour show that meanders through Old Town every Saturday from 1-4 pm, November through April.
“It’s the highlight of the show,” says Sprague, who has to take one of his chap-covered legs out of the saddle to fit both him and the black and white quarter horse through the Rusty Spur’s swinging doors.
Sprague, who began playing guitar and riding horses as a child, is literally living every little boy’s dream of growing up to become a cowboy. Dressed in a colorful Western shirt, cowboy hat, chaps and boots, the Singing Cowboy makes a loop around Old Town, stopping along the route to sing cowboy classics like “Back in the Saddle Again,” share some tall tales or cowboy poetry, and show off his (unloaded) gun twirling skills.
Despite his many talents, somehow it’s always Dusty that steals the show. Giving the audience what they want, Sprague and Dusty carry on a comedy routine that includes Dusty answering some pointed “yes” and “no” questions and performing crowd-pleasing tricks. Visitors lucky enough to catch his show in December get to meet his alter ego, Cowboy Clause. The duo is decked for the holidays—half-Santa/half-cowboy for Sprague, and a pair of antlers for Dusty.
There were some forks in the trail on Sprague’s journey to becoming Arizona’s Singing Cowboy. A native of Syracuse, New York, Sprague played in bands since his high school days in the late ’60s, but like many young adults he put aside his musical dreams for the practicality of working for a manufacturing company. After nine years he realized a recession was coming, and with his wife Peggy, decided to head West to play country music.
He quickly scored gigs playing at Merv Griffin’s dude ranch in Wickenburg and at the now-defunct iconic Greasewood Flats in far North Scottsdale. It was while playing there that a guest suggested he check out the Parada del Sol parade, one of the world’s longest horse-drawn parades. Sprague couldn’t believe that the 3.5-hour parade featured no singing cowboy.
“I thought, ‘What is wrong with this town?’” says Sprague. “My friends laughed and found me a horse that everyone was afraid of. In six months I retrained it and the Arizona Singing Cowboy was born.”
In addition to delighting tourists and locals alike in Old Town, Sprague performs at private events and uses his act at Arizona schools as a tool to teach an anti-bullying message.