When it comes to material for country music songs, Michael Shaw may have just a little more edge in terms of life experiences. From living and working in the western wilderness to the long journey to his first album, the road has been authentic.
It’s what Shaw, a 1997 Shawnee High School graduate, has captured on his first release, “He Rode On,” that captures the classic outlaw country sound made famous by legends, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.
Like a lot of artists’ stories, it wasn’t one that started out set on creating music in Nashville. Shaw moved to Springfield and lived in Ramar Estates near the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and attended Possum Middle School.
Although he was in a suburban neighborhood, all the country trappings were around him.
“We rode our bikes down to Yellow Springs, spent a lot of time traipsing in the woods, went to John Bryan Park and Clifton Gorge. We loved it down there and must’ve hiked every inch,” Shaw said.
Shaw started his first band as a Shawnee freshman, playing Pink Floyd music, including “Another Brick in the Wall” at places like Possum when not playing in the school music programs.
“We thought we were little rock and roll rebels,” he said, laughing.
Shaw pursued psychology, philosophy and music at Ohio University upon graduation, enjoying the lifestyle, recalling working here when in town at TGI Friday’s to earn money for a drum kit, his instrument of choice, practicing for hours.
He’d answer the call of the wild after that, moving west to Montana on a road trip.
“I was young and it was an adventure, something new that was mostly wild and authentic,” he said, comparing Missoula to Athens, Ohio, where he’d just left the university.
Shaw’s home for his first month there was a barn, snoozing in a sleeping bag and feeling it was so far from home, but it also felt like home. He’d continue with the drums, obsessed with getting better, but still a long journey till he could record.
Shaw lived off the land and in cabins, hunting and fishing, working on ranches and with horses. While never a huge country music fan, a Haggard box set and the lifestyle changed his mind.
“It resonated with the life I was living, that outlaw life up in the Rockies,” he said.
Joining him in Montana was Shaw’s buddy Colin McKnight, who he met at OU and became a musical partner, forming a band called Whiskey Rebellion and began writing and taking up the guitar.
Unfortunately, McKnight passed away. Shaw confessed he never thought he could do music without him, but dealt with the grief through songwriting.
The title track hints at it all, said Shaw, who moved to Nashville to record it and be at the center of country music. While several critics have been positive, Shaw isn’t expecting overnight success, but tempering his expectations.
“There’s so much noise to cut through, but it’s a good foundation,” he said. “This album is a snapshot of Montana life.”
Challenges include getting around Nashville and competing to find gigs, but he’s eager to travel and would love to get back to Springfield. He still visits friends here and enjoys visiting Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company, where he could imagine performing.
“I would love to get out there and go around on a regional level. It’s a matter of putting a band together,” he said.
Until then, Shaw plans to continue writing, riding on, and hopes others will discover “He Rode On.”
To view more about Shaw, to download the album or for videos, go to michaelshawmusic.com/.