For the fourth consecutive time, the New Mexico trio known as The Cowboy Way has been honored as the group of the year by the International Western Music Association.
The trio – Jim Jones of Rio Rancho, Doug Figgs of Lemitar and Mariam Funke of Santa Fe – were honored with the 2021 Duo or Group of the Year Award during the IWMA’s recent convention at the Hotel Albuquerque.
The Cowboy Way also won the award in 2017, 2018 and 2019. No award was presented in 2020 because the convention was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jones attributed the trio’s success to “doin’ what we do,” which is also the title of the group’s most recent CD.
“Sometimes it’s hard to know what works,” he said. “There’s a little magic there. We don’t take credit for it, but we appreciate it.”
Founded in 1988, IWMA is an organization of Western musicians and poets and people who love and support Western music and poetry in the United States and other countries. IWMA presented several other awards to New Mexicans this year.
- Figgs picked up his second Male Performer of the Year Award. He also won that honor in 2018.
- Lemitar twins Kacey and Jenna Thunborg, 16, received the Crescendo Award, which is presented to a group or individual, relatively new to the Western scene, that has made considerable advances artistically or commercially.
- Bernard Carr of Rio Rancho, vice president of IWMA’s New Mexico chapter, received the Bill Wiley Award, presented to IWMA members who are not performers but have demonstrated their dedication to the preservation and promotion of Western music and poetry and to supporting IWMA.
Jones said Cowboy Way’s approach to Western music is different than many contemporary Western acts because it owes as much to the influence of 1970s Southern rock band Marshall Tucker as it does to the Sons of the Pioneers, the trailblazing Western group founded in the 1930s and featured in dozens of Western movies.
And he said each member of the trio brings something different to Cowboy Way.
“Doug, who is a farrier and experienced with horses, is the most authentic cowboy,” Jones said. “And Doug’s the Marshall Tucker guy, too. Mariam comes from Germany and has a different take on music. He is one of the most talented musicians and producers I have ever known. He plays keyboards and everything with strings except fiddle.”
Jones, who is from Texas, plays guitar, mandolin, dobro, some keyboards and tin whistle.
“I bring that Texas singer-songwriter sensibility to the group,” he said.
Figgs said Cowboy Way just fits together.
“We bring a different sound to telling our stories of the West, and for some reason, that’s working,” he said.
Figgs credits his Male Performer of the Year Award to his wife, Cathy, scouting out house concerts and festivals to keep him busy during a year in which the pandemic made performing a challenge.
“Cathy is always out there looking for something to do,” he said. “As soon as we were able to, I was out there doing some solo stuff and a few deals with Cowboy Way.”
The Thunborg twins said the Crescendo Award is a welcome acknowledgment that they are getting better at what they do.
“The award is for the best improved, so it’s a milestone,” Jenna said. “It’s good to know we have grown as musicians in lots of ways. I think we are more comfortable being on stage, and that makes us better entertainers. Kacey is a better guitar player, and I’m a better singer.”
Kacey said she finds it gratifying that the award is based on the votes of fellow IWMA members.
“It’s kind of cool to see how many people are supporting us,” she said. “Jenna and I have been working hard, and its cool to see how far we have come.”
The Bill Wiley Award, named for an IWMA founder, honors association members who work behind the scenes rather than on stage, people such as Carr who support the organization on a local and national level, doing whatever is necessary from collecting tickets to making sure performers get to where they need to be when they need to be there.
Carr, 76, has lived in New Mexico for 29 years, but he got his love for Western music growing up on a ranch 10 miles south of Wamego, Kansas.
“After chores, we’d come in and listen to Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch show on the radio while we were having supper,” Carr said. “Back in those days, when the weather was right, you could sometimes get the Grand Ole Opry on the radio and sometimes they would have Western artists such as Jimmy Wakely on the show.”