RW Hampton: ‘Cimarron country was my first love’
Local award-winning singer gears up for 2014
By Gabriel Weinstein
MIAMI, N.M. — Music and song-writing have always been cathartic for R.W. Hampton, an award-winning western music singer and songwriter with deep roots in Cimarron. After his sister died in a car cash, Hampton used his guitar as a therapeutic outlet as a teenager.
“It gave me some escape from a sad household situation. I just stared learning songs. I jut got a lot of pleasure out of it,” he said during an interview with the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle Dec. 20 at his home in Miami, N.M., which is about 20 miles south of Cimarron.
Hampton’s recent single “Hell in a Helmet” is no different. The song stems form Hampton’s experience reconnecting with his son, Cooper, who recently completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the United States Marine Corps.
“After the bullets stop flying and the guys come home there’s this whole over thing about trying to get back into civilian life — or event like my son who is still active duty Marine but is in the U.S. right now. Just coming back to part of our world again, it’s just not an easy thing,” he said. “You don’t just leave it behind. It shows up in dreams and different things like that. I think almost to a man, whether it’s a guy going against his PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) or not, you don’t leave that situation where you have seen unbelievably gruesome things and just come home and leave it all behind. It takes a while.”
“Hell in a Helmet” is one of several songs on Hampton’s newest album, “This Cowboy, My Country,” which wrestles with patriotism. In “My Country’s Not For Sale,” Hampton pleads with listeners to unite for the welfare of the country.
“Not For Sale” seems to be a battle cry that doesn’t have any political boundaries, Republican or Democrat. I just think that we’re all pretty well displeased with those guys up in D.C. whether they’re Republicans or Democrats or what. We want our country back,” he said. “The whole idea is that freedoms that we do enjoy have been paid for by a lot of blood, all the way back. A lot of those names and places are mentioned in the song.”
Before Hampton used his songs to examine American society, much of his music focused on the plight of cowboys. Hampton always dreamed of being a cowboy during his childhood in north-central Texas. He owned a horse as a child and was an active member of his high school’s rodeo team. During summer vacations, he worked in the horse department at the Boy Scouts of American’s Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron. The summers at Philmont convinced Hampton to pursue a career as a cowboy after he graduated high school.
“At the time, all I ever really wanted to be was a working cowboy. I just gave me enough taste of that lifestyle. I fit it and it fit me,” he said.
The summers at Philmont were also crucial moments in Hampton’s music career. Some of his first performances were at the St. James Hotel, then known as Don Diego Vera Saloon. He was so moved by Philmont’s wide open ranges, the looming Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the village’s residents that he penned the song, “Cimarron.”
“It was just this neat little town, where there were Hispanic people, Anglo people, and there were coyotes and everyone got along pretty good,” he said.
Following a semester in college, Hampton headed out for the Spade Ranch to begin his professional cowboy career. Hampton enjoyed being back in Northeastern New Mexico and living on the ranch. He continued playing his guitar and writing new songs during his free time.
The Cimarron area was Hampton’s first love, he said, but like many young lovers, he wanted to explore. His wanderlust took him to ranches in Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, Texas and other parts of New Mexico. Throughout his travel’s Hampton remained transfixed with Cimarron and the surrounding area.
“This Cimarron country was my first love, and we broke up and I went out and dated some but I never got over my first love,” he said. “I admired things about other parts of the country — the big mountain meadows, the big open valleys — but it was either or. Here there was everything.”
Throughout his cowboy days Hampton always had his notepad and guitar. He regularly sang and played for other cowboys. His first major performance was at the Golden Spur Awards in Lubbock, Texas in 1978.
His interest in pursuing a full-time entertainment career sprouted after appearing in Kenny Rogers’ documentary, Kenny Rogers and the American Cowboy. Hampton enjoyed being on camera and expressing himself in a new way. A few years later he connected with Rogers’ manager again who offered him a role in the CBS Movie of the Week, “Wild Horses.” In the film, Hampton’s character got in a bar fight, roped cattle and sang a song with Rogers’ character at a campfire.
The experience showed Hampton he had the talent to make it in the entertainment industry. Plus he enjoy his salary. He made nearly three times as much money in a week as an actor than married cowboy s did back on the ranches.
“That was when I thought, ‘I could work for the other man or maybe I can pursue the entertainment industry and someday have something for myself.’ That’s really probably when the light really cam on. I was always interested in the whole package when it came to entertainment,” he said.
During the last 30 years, Hampton has appeared in 13 movies. He has also appeared in commercials and TV shows and done voice-over work for radio.
As his acting career took off, Hampton continued recording music. His first album, “Travelin’ Light,” was released in 1984. The melodies and lyrics of Hampton’s 14 albums are inspired by a diverse source of influences. Hampton grew up listening to everything from Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins to The Eagles and Nat King Cole.
He has performed at major venues such as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. He has also appeared at cowboy festivals in Australia, Brazil and the United Kingdom. In 2011 Hampton was inducted into the Western Music Association’s Hall of Fame.
As 2013 wound down, Hampton and his wife Lisa were busy putting the finishing touches on “This Cowboy, My Country.” They have been promoting Hampton’s newest single, “It’s Cold Outside,” recorded with country western recording artist Mary Kaye. He is preparing to hit the road touring in the spring.
But before Hampton heads back out on the road, he is enjoying his time on his ranch in Miami. Hampton and his family have lived on the ranch for 13 years. His four older children all graduated from Cimarron High School and his two youngest children are in first grade and seventh grade in Cimarron Municipal Schools. His family members are also members of Cimarron First Baptist Church and have been active in Cimarron High School’s athletic booster club, the Boy Scouts and 4-H. Hampton always makes sure he is in town to MC the Maverick Club’s 4th of July Rodeo, an event he used to head to in search of landing a cowboy job.
Though Hampton has lived all over the country and traveled to different corners of the world, the Cimarron area is still the only place he calls home.
“It’s all very musical to me,” he said. “What it does for me is makes God seem real big and me seem real small, and that’s a good thing.”