Saturday, July 24, 2010

Italy -- Italian country-western: George McAnthony, the Cowboy of the Alps

George McAnthony, the "Cowboy of the Alps," was, if I recall correctly, the first European I met who was involved in the country scene. I first saw him perform in, I believe, 2002 -- at a rural inn in central Italy that was sponsoring a “Country Festa” at which guests sported paper Indian headdresses and called each other “pardner.”

His 14th album, "Dust off My Boots" was just released; recorded in Nashville.

McAnthony was born Georg Spitaler in 1966 near Bolzano/Bozen in the Dolomite Mountains of the mainly German-speaking South Tyrol (Alto Adige) region. He grew up an avid fan of the European-made western movies based on the popular “Winnetou” novels of the 19th century German author Karl May.

As a little boy, he was photographed dressed up as a Native American. He wore a fringed leather costume and feathered headdress, had “warpaint” on his face, and was beating a drum slung around his neck.

When Georg was a teenager he fell in love with American country-western music and began roaring around his village on a motorcyle, blasting country music from its loudspeakers and wearing a cowboy hat and boots.

More than 20 years ago, after working as a carpenter and spending a couple years as a volunteer aid worker in Ethiopia, Georg reinvented himself as George McAnthony and went on the road fulltime as a country-western singer. He chose McAnthony as his stage name in honor of his late father, Anton. “I wanted a name that sounded American,” he told me, “and this made sense.”

McAnthony tours Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland as a "country one man band," complete with black Stetson, leather fringes, painted stage backdrop of Monument Valley and a souvenir stall selling cheap turquoise jewelry, “George McAnthony” bolo ties, cowboy hats and his own CDs. He plays street fairs, horse shows, beer festivals, and outdoor summer fĂȘtes in medieval village piazzas.

McAnthony writes much of his own material, in English, and his songs stress what he describes as socially engaged, “positive images” – racial harmony, animal rights, world peace and safeguarding the environment. “I live the country way of life, and I love country music, and this is the way I do it,” he sings, with a distinct non-native accent, in his song “Country Way of Life.” He goes on, “You don’t have to kill the Indians, or the people of Africa...”

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