Cowboy Steve

By  |  November 21, 2017
Photograph by Guy Mendes (, from 40/40: Forty Years Forty Portraits (Institute 193) Photograph by Guy Mendes (, from 40/40: Forty Years Forty Portraits (Institute 193)
Cowboy Steve


“Most blacks don’t like country music,” Steve Taylor told the AP in 1986 for a story headlined COWBOY STEVE PLAYS RECORDS FOR NO AUDIENCE, “but I’ve been country all my life.” Taylor grew up in Madison County, Kentucky, listening to the Grand Ole Opry. After a move to Lexington, he wore Western shirts and a signature cowboy hat, “pushed back at an angle, looking like some kind of frontierland nimbus,” reported Guy Mendes in 1971 in the local Blue-Tail Fly. Taylor worked at the Adams House Restaurant, among other jobs, but after work several times a week for decades, he broadcast “Cowboy Steve’s Country Western Show” for an hour over WSEV, his single-digit-watt radio station whose signal barely reached around the block. “Tomorrow,” wrote Mendes, a fan and admirer, “I’ll come back down and park on Jefferson Street, near Fourth, set the tuner a little to the 900-side of 1000 and try to weed out the whistles and buzzes and whines that cling to the WSEV signal like so many strands of a parasitic vine.” What Mendes heard at the end of the hour was this: “If the good Lord’s willin’, we’ll be back with you again tomorrow night ’long about six o’clock, Eastern Standard Time. This is Cowboy Steve Taylor saying kneel at your bedside and say just one little prayer before saying good night.”

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Jay Jennings is a senior editor of the Oxford American. He is the author of Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City and the editor of Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.