It’s been a lifetime spent in the entertainment business.
Thirty-one of those years have happened right here in Durango, where Gary Cook has taken the stage every evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day with guitar in hand, playing with The Bar-D Wranglers at The Bar-D Chuckwagon north of town.
They’re one of the top cowboy bands in the biz, where Cook has remained a solid fixture in the lineup, having not missed a set in those 31 years; the only thing that kept him from the stage since he began were the forest fires that halted performances. If all goes as planned, the 2020 season will find Cook on stage for 109 consecutive nights.
“This will be my 32nd season, and I’ve yet to miss a show at the Chuckwagon,” Cook said. “That record, I don’t know that I’d recommend that as a goal for anyone else, but that’s the way it’s worked out for me.”
In addition to his role at The Bar-D as guitar player and food server, as everyone at the Chuckwagon multitasks, Cook also runs a recording studio, producing records or playing as a session player, lending his guitar talents to musicians nationwide. Winner of the flat-picking contests at The Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kansas, as he says, “back in the nineteen-hundreds,” the man flat-out rips, his technical prowess driving tasty leads, giving a flat-picking flair to the band’s traditional tunes.
His life in the music business started when he was 4. The young Gary Cook was reared in a musical family, a family who were regular performers on the “Rocky Mountain Jamboree” radio show on KLAK-Radio in Denver. Inundated with music and emulating his older brothers, there would have been something wrong if the path he took didn’t involve music.
“I come from a musical family, and my two older brothers made their living as professional musicians, into their adult lives as well. So whatever they learned to do, whatever they were working on I tried to copy them and learn as well,” Cook said in a recent phone conversation. “It was a great way to grow up. We grew up with having people, friends and family members and big music jam sessions, family music parties. It was our home one weekend, or it might be at an uncle’s the next weekend. So music was a huge part of our life.”
Cook landed in Southwest Colorado in the late 1980s. He got right to work with The Bar-D Wranglers but also has kept a steady stream of studio work going in the off-season. That’s included recording local country musician Tyller Gummersall, and the on indefinite-hiatus bluegrass outfit Rock & Rye. Charlie Daniels has also been a regular, playing at The Bar D or recording with Cook in his studio.
“You never know who might be on the other end of the line when the phone rings,” Cook said.
He’s a humble man, well aware of the fortune that’s been laid out in front of him. Making it in the music business is nothing more than a crapshoot, so perhaps having your role as a professional musician come with serving people food for 109 consecutive nights in the summer is what you need to do to make it happen. It unlikely you’d find Justin Bieber serving up dinner and cowboy coffee minutes before his set. That is, however, typical for Cook and the rest of the band.
“It is fun, to be on stage and entertain people. You know, we’re never aware of what those people are going through in their lives, and so they could have come from something during the day that wasn’t particularly good news, but they had this event planned and they are going to follow through,” Cook said. “So hopefully, we put a smile on their face and feed them a good dinner and everyone leaves the chuckwagon in a little better mood and a little better place maybe.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.