By Ruth Ellen Gruber
I've just caught up with the sad news that the Italian country singer George McAnthony died last month of a heart attack. He was only 45. George was the first European country singer I met when I first started exploring the "imaginary wild west." I saw him perform a couple of times and did a lengthy interview with him -- he was a nice guy and he and his story helped trigger my interest in the imaginary wild west phenomenon. (For his web site click HERE)
George was born Georg Spitaler in 1966 near Bolzano in the Dolomite Mountains of the mainly German-speaking South Tyrol/Alto Adige region of northern Italy. 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 teenager he fell in love with American country-western music and began roaring around his village on a motorcycle, blasting country music from its loudspeakers and wearing a cowboy hat and boots. In the 1990s 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 and 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 toured Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland as a "country one man band," complete with a black Stetson, leather fringes, a painted stage backdrop of Monument Valley and a souvenir stall selling cheap turquoise jewelry, “George McAnthony” bolo ties, cowboy hats and his own CDs, a couple of which were recorded in Nashville. He played street fairs, horse shows, beer festivals, and outdoor summer fêtes in medieval village piazzas.
He died while spending the day on the beach at Terracina, south of Rome, before a scheduled appearance in the town of Vico (at a country festival).
I first saw McAnthony perform 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.” McAnthony wrote much of his own material, in English. His songs stressed what he described 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 sang, with a distinct non-native accent, in his song “Country Way of Life.” He went on, “You don’t have to kill the Indians, or the people of Africa...”
The German blog Country Music International has put up a tribute page to George with lots of information on him, and lots of links.