By Ellen Miller-Goins
A well-known book offers the advice, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” This is not for the faint of heart, as R.W. Hampton learned the day he decided to leave “$800 a month with a house and beef” for an even more uncertain career as a musician.
“I had a ranch job at the time and when I quit, that phone stopped ringing and I nearly starved to death!” Hampton said in a 2000 interview with The Chronicle.
It worked out.
Today music is his livelihood and cowboying is his life blood. He calls his Clearview Ranch in Miami, New Mexico, near Cimarron and Springer, “The most beautiful spot on earth.… If you died and went to heaven, it would be a horizontal move.”
It could be argued that every move R.W. has made has been an upward move to the heaven he imagines on earth. “I was raised in Richardson, Texas. I participated in high school rodeo and boarded a horse out of town. Philmont [Scout Ranch] was my first experience riding a horse in open country. To come back to this country is just wonderful.”
When the performer was recently named the Philmont Staff Association’s Distinguished Staff Alumni Award for 2018, a press release noted, “Hampton got his performing start playing the guitar and singing at cowboy campfires at Philmont Scout Ranch, where he worked as a wrangler in backcountry camps… summers from 1974 through 1976. He went on to work as a cowboy on ranches all over the West, in New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming, but all the while continued his singing and songwriting. In 1988, he made the career leap to full-time entertaining, and has earned ‘a wagonload of awards’ for his work since then.”
It is a natural move, then, for the performer to bring his lifelong passion to the return of Michael Martin Murphey’s American Westfest in Red River 5:30 p.m. Saturday (July 7). Murphey founded the family-friendly event to preserve memories and images of the Old West.
“I just think Michael understands the universal love for the American West,” Hampton said. “The Cowboy and the Indian both symbolize freedom and everything that’s good about America. Michael’s created this wonderful showcase for the fans to come and then he’s also offered the opportunity for people who would be fans to come. And once they’ve experienced it, they’re fans for life.
“Always with the West, back before television, there was a great oral tradition. That started with the mountain men in Tennessee. Some of their stories were verbally done in rhyme and meter, some of them were told with music.”
Hampton, a 2011 inductee into the Western Music Association’s Hall of Fame, was named by American Cowboy magazine in 2013 as one of the “50 Greatest Country & Western Singers,” alongside performers like George Strait, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Gene Autry. He’s a four-time recipient of the Academy of Western Artists’ Male Vocalist of the Year award and the 2009 recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the American Cowboy Culture Association.
After 22 years in the entertainment business, R.W. is still pure cowboy, singing about what he loves best. He has released 13 albums, including a Christmas collection and two gospel albums. He has performed all over the United States and the world, including at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and has appeared in more than a dozen movies. In his critically acclaimed one-man stage play, “The Last Cowboy – His Journey,” he plays an aging cowboy in 2025 recounting the history of the American cowboy through monologue and song.
As true fans for Western lore know, there are admiring artists who seek something they never had and artists who are inviting listeners into their world. When asked why he chose this life, Hampton replies, “I don’t know. My dad was a business man and my mom was a teacher. It’s always been kind of a mystery to my family. I grew up watching Westerns in the ’60s and they did a great job romanticizing being out on a horse, being out in in the open.”
When he’s not headlining cowboy concerts and western music events across the nation, R.W. spends most of his time at the ranch with his wife and the two youngest of his six children doing the work he loves. His life is guided by his faith, his love for his family, and his desire to share cowboy life with his audiences.
He admits the lifestyle falls in perfectly with his values and his lifelong faith. ““I’m inspired by a lot of things I’ve done and seen while working on ranches. The sense of teamwork, the sense of honor, the sense of respect for God — all those things are important to me. The changing of the seasons, the cycles of night and day, the births in the springtime. It does enhance my faith. I know that. The Bible talks about all of nature cries out, proclaiming the glory of God. It’s hard for me to conceive that God did it by accident.”
Following a major disappointment in 2012, R.W. wrote, “I was driving through the black empty prairie.… I pulled over, stopped and got out. The stars were incredible. I recognized the Big Dipper, Orion and that old faithful North Star. Dad showed me these constellations as a kid. These same stars that ancient mariners & herdsman have used for direction gave me the sense that God is big, I am small and that there is a plan. And the sun rose this morning right on time.”
The man has a way with words.