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Boss Mama at Earth Rider. Photos by Jill Fisher.
One of the best and most popular singer-songwriter musicians in our midst is Colleen (Wekseth) Myhre, or as she is better known, Boss Mama, her “stage name.”
She has been keeping plenty busy this summer with several activities, not only on the music front where she has averaged two to four shows a week. It’s hard to keep up with where all she’ll show up next.
Throughout July she performed at Sunday Strum Days at Earth Rider. She had regular gigs with her band Boss Mama and the Jebberhooch. But besides all this, she works full-time at Rugged Spruce Golf Course (more on that below).
If you wonder, like I do, where such talent, inspiration and persistence come from, wonder no more. It appears both nature and nurture had lots to do with this lady’s musical destiny.
And then there’s the cosmic angle: Colleen was born in Cloquet on May 25, a Gemini, her birthday being a day later than Bob Dylan’s—a more recent year though, as she laughingly pointed out. The astrological influence certainly abets her ability to turn a phrase (trust me on this!).
Colleen’s family had a dairy farm east of Barnum where she grew up, learning about hard work from a young age. Plus she was surrounded by family that loved music. Regular exposure to relatives who had their own talents accounts for a lot. Auntie Iola, for instance, played the piano and was a really good yodeler; Grandpa Harold, played the harmonica. Both her grandmas and her father sang, with Colleen typically joining in.
She heard plenty of gospel as well as good ol’ honky-tonk and country western music throughout her early years.
Her mama, Cass, reports that by age five Colleen was singing her heart out constantly together with her younger sister Becky. She loved entertaining the family and they were amazed by her plunking out original and recognizable tunes on her toy piano, making it clear that she had music in her blood.
For her ninth birthday, her parents sold a cow to buy her a real upright piano. They also paid for some piano lessons, though it seems it wasn’t necessary as her instructor advised them that she should run with her natural talent to memorize the music she hears and play by ear. Around this time Colleen performed her own composition at a July 4th talent program.
In recalling her daughter as a young child, Cass said that she was head-strong, very determined and a hard worker. One might consider whether this was instilled in her while still in the womb—Cass was helping to install a fence through a swamp when she went into labor with Colleen. However, Cass’s brother-in-law kept her working until the fencing was completed, only then was she able to get to the hospital and deliver Colleen within just a few hours!
At age 10, Colleen moved with her family to Kettle River, after they sold the dairy operation, to raise and race thoroughbred horses. From that point until she flew the coop, she was actively involved in the enterprise, exercising the horses on a daily basis. (She notes that she hasn’t been back on a horse for 20 years—that’s how busy she’s been with other activities.) The family lived in Colorado for a while as well. As Colleen went through school, she was involved in sports and started working in a restaurant at age 14. Attending the College of St. Scholastica where she was enrolled in the music program, Colleen was exposed to different types of music and even sang opera for a year-end recital. Around age 20 she learned to golf (a talent that would have special meaning later on). Then, in her mid-20s Colleen lit off for Nashville to soak up the music happening there which was in line with the traditional country music she was weaned on.
On September 12, 1997, Colleen married James Kevin Myhre, who would prove to be a strong support for her musical ambitions. For her birthday in 1998, Jimmy gave Colleen an Epiphone acoustic guitar, launching her on her current musical odyssey. She spent about five years in what she calls her guitar apprenticeship, learning chords and finger-picking techniques from friends like John Metz and Rob Mahowski.
Colleen Myhre with Nathan Frazer
When she began performing with the guitar, it was as a solo artist. Around this time she joined the Salem Lutheran Church in Mahtowa and met fellow musicians Doug Soukala, Jeff Gilbertson and Caleb Anderson. Together with others they formed the Holy Hootenanners to perform Country Gospel tunes in a variety of venues.
Becoming more embedded in the local music scene, Colleen booked musicians for the free Highway 61 Folks Festival in Mahtowa from 2002 through 2009, which was run by husband Jimmy. By this time Colleen was beginning to be known by the moniker Boss Mama.
Boss Mama’s musical influences through the years have included several genres and a variety of performers, such as John Prine, J.J. Kale, and the Staples Family Singers. She also cites Charlie Parr as being a major influence on her song-writing, saying, “I knew from the first time I heard him perform, I wanted to do that.”
What kind of music does she gravitate to these days? “Soul, rhythm and gritty.” Her singing—whether of classic covers or her own compositions clearly reflects these influences. I
n September 2020, Colleen and Jim bought the Twenty Nine Pines Golf Course in Mahtowa, that they’ve renamed Rugged Spruce. She explained, “Jimmy has supported my dream of performing music for so many years, now I want to support his dream of owning and running a golf course.”
Melding her passion for music with a vision of the property becoming a community gathering place, they expanded the patio and constructed the Long Iron Stage to accommodate live outdoor music performances and other gatherings.
In 2022 they established the inaugural summer concert series, titled “Under the Blue Umbrellas.” The lineup of musicians they have hosted during the past two years is impressive. The Holy Hootenanners also held its 10th annual Mahtowa Hootenanny at Rugged Spruce this past July. Included in this event was Boss Mama performing with her sons Saul (drums) and Luke (congas). T
hough the regularly scheduled music is over for this season, you’ll want to make a note to check the Rugged Spruce website next year to see what’s in store for 2024. Working full-time at Rugged Spruce during the summer, just when there is a surfeit of outdoor venues, at which she is scheduled to perform, has Boss Mama been burning the candle at both ends? Has she been able to balance these commitments sufficiently?
Boss Mama and the Jebberhooch at Duluth Cider
“I’m working on it,” she says. And speaking of burning, Boss Mama quit cigarette smoking cold turkey on her birthday in the interest of saving her voice. Another sign of her determination and commitment to singing.
At this point Boss Mama has 20 years of experience performing around these parts. “These parts” include Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas and Colorado. She performs both solo and with her band the Jebberhooch playing her 1966 electric Guild shallow-body electric guitar. She is often invited to join other bands onstage, one being New Salty Dog. Occasionally she rejoins the Holy Hootenanners, when her schedule permits
She’s recorded two albums thus far— Ride of My Life (2011) and Boss Mama-Just Getting Started (2019). A third, titled Greetings From the Barnyard Lounge, is currently in production. Recorded at Rich Mattson’s Sparta Sound Studio, it will be released this Fall and will undoubtedly reveal another aspect of Boss Mama’s musical leanings, with some bluesy numbers and some slower lounge-type music.
Boss Mama has become a local legend who, with her singing talent and original song compositions, could make it big time, if she had time to pursue that goal. Until that happens we can treasure this gem of a singer-songwriter who makes her home in our region.
Colleen at home