Gittin' Western, with a symphony
Contributed photo, The Bill Ganz Western Band includes, from left, pedal steel guitarist Rich Brennion, rhythm guitarist Ganz, bass player Bill Ronstadt and drummer Ralph Gilmore.

You've heard these songs before, and they remain in the grown-in trails of your mind just like the sound of thunder flowing down a long-ago mountain canyon.

The bold bursts of Elmer Bernstein's "The Magnificent Seven" (as in "Beef. It's What's for Dinner). The unquenched deep longing of Bob Nolan's "Cool Water." The cowboy calls of Dmitri Tiomkin's "Theme from Rawhide," yes, the hit re-made by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in "The Blues Brothers." The thundering hooves of Nelson Riddle's "Theme from Bonanza," a take on Rossini's "The William Tell Overture."

Remember them? Remember the introduction to Bonanza?

"Anybody who grew up in that time, that was immediate," said Bill Ganz, the Western musician who's about to fulfill a dream. "Every generation has a top 10. All of these are in that top 10."

For years, Ganz and his band have kept Western music alive in one of its great places of origin, Tucson. Now, at the Tucson Music Hall March 26-28, Ganz and his band perform with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Pops!, presenting "Saddle Up: Music of the West," a gathering of Western music's greatest numbers with a symphony orchestra to boot.

"This is the culmination of a dream of mine," Ganz said. "This hasn't been done before."

He's always loved symphonic music. And he's always loved Western music, dating back to his youth near Kearney, in the heart of Nebraska's Platte River country. "I thought 'why not meld them?' Why not bring people into the symphony who would never go?"

Ganz shared his vision of a symphonic Western music concert with a guitar student several years back. He wanted to do a concert "that honors Western music in the birthplace of Western music, Tucson, Arizona."

The student, Bob Walkup — Tucson's mayor, today — knew George Hanson of the TSO. Talks began, and "it has finally come to be," Ganz said.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the TSO Pops! to show their versatility at performing a different kind of 'classic,'" said Hanson, TSO music director and conductor. "We are thrilled to celebrate Southern Arizona's musical heritage with experts in the genre, The Bill Ganz Western Band." The concert may bring "disparate parts of Tucson together," Ganz hopes. "It's something down there they would never go to. I had a friend ask me 'what am I supposed to be wearing?' You wear what you're comfortable in."

Ganz is comfortable wearing Western music.

"Western music is when you're out in the vistas, riding down the canyon, singing about the beauty of the outdoors, and ranch life," Ganz said. "It's music that's about this neck of the woods. You walk into a bar and put 25 cents in the jukebox? That's country music."

Western music is deeply rooted in Southern Arizona.

Bob Nolan wrote the poem "Cool Water" when he was a sophomore at Tucson High School. He hit the road after school, and in California became part of the original Sons of the Pioneers, with Roy Rogers and Tim Spencer. Nolan also wrote "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," used in the Gene Autry film of the same name.

Charles "Badger" Clark was working a ranch near Ruby when he wrote the poem "Spanish is the Loving Tongue." "It's a great piece," said Ganz. "We went to Ruby to see the ghost town."

Grofe's "On the Trail" from "Grand Canyon Suite" inspired "Happy Trails," the Dale Evans classic.

One summer in the Dragoon Mountains, Stan Jones and his partner, Cap Watts, were tying down a windmill vane ahead of a chubasco, or monsoonal storm. The clouds looked like cattle, with horseback riders on the hoof. "You ever seen anything like that?" Jones asked Watts. "No, but my grandpa did. He called it ghost riders."

Jones wrote the song. He was scouting a motion picture location in Utah, and played "Riders in the Sky" around a campfire. John Wayne heard it, and told Jones he could place it in a Western. The rest truly is history.

The late Rex Allen Sr., the last of the silver-screen cowboys from Willcox, wrote "Arizona Waltz" as a teen. Ganz played a few gigs with Allen's band, The Reinsmen, "the thrill of a lifetime," and the "Arizona Waltz" is special to him.

"This whole part of our Western culture, keeping that alive is a goal of mine, and always has been," Ganz said. "Every one of them, we're doing in this show. It's all in our consciences, it's preservable, and it needs to be remembered."

Ganz has called Tucson home since 1981, and has resided in the Northwest since '92. He's played guitar since he was 10, and teaches it as well as playing with The Bill Ganz Band, which works the resort circuit and private parties, and has just released its third compact disc, "Saddle Up: Music of the West." Boxes of the CDs sit in the entryway to Ganz's home. He's got 1,000 of them, priced at $15 each, "a bargain at any price."

"I would not want to do this without these guys," Ganz said of his band mates. "There is a camaraderie we have, it's unique and very special. I think of us as a band, as opposed to me as the front guy."

Bass player and vocalist Bill Ronstadt is "an instinctive musician who knows a lot about harmony and arrangements, and can sing anything," Ganz said. Drummer and vocalist Ralph Gilmore "is the best and most versatile' drummer in the city. Pedal steel guitarist Rich Brennion is "world class," and "the premiere steel guitarist in the Tucson area." Ronstadt is the band's "newcomer" at four years; the others have played together since '92. The band's first two discs were "The Bill Ganz Western Band" and "The Smoke of 1,000 Campfires."

"We're not getting rich," Ganz said, "but I'm not living in the van yet. You have to diversify."

The band and the orchestra are due to rehearse two days prior to the show.

"I think the arrangements," done by Rob Boone, "are going to be great," Ganz said. Boone began with the arrangements on the new CD. "Everything is going to meld perfectly.

"For me, this certainly justifies all the work I've done over the years," Ganz said. "It's a kind of culmination of what I've been doing."

Saddle Up: Music of the West

The Bill Ganz Western Band and the TSO Pops!

Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 28, at 2 p.m.

Tucson Music Hall

Sponsored by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra League.

Tickets, $24 to $62. Available online at, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Box Office, or by phone at 882-8585.

Fund-raising event for TSO Saturday in OV

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra League is hosting Boots 'N' Spurs, a fund-raiser for the TSO featuring a barbecue, auctions, line dancing and live music, on Saturday, March 20 at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort in Oro Valley.

The evening begins at 5 p.m. with a margarita bar and the traditional chips and salsa in the Last Territory, a special event venue taking guests back to the Old West.

The Bill Ganz Western Band will provide the entertainment.

Tickets to Boots 'N' Spurs are $100 per person; $50 is tax deductible because the event is a fund-raiser for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra League.

For an invitation or reservation, call Jo Clark (520) 885-2179.

Sponsors of Boots 'N' Spurs are Settlers West and Medicine Man Galleries.

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