“I still have trouble calling myself an artist, but I’ve never been scared of failure,” Damon Rogers said of the first songwriter’s retreat he reluctantly took part in in Fredericksburg, Texas two years ago. “I thought, ‘those are real writers and I’m just a pretend writer,’ but I’ve always believed that winners run with winners, and when I started running with writers, my songwriting improved drastically.”

Since Rogers’ decision to attend that songwriting retreat – with it’s jam and song swapping sessions with the likes of the late Richard J. Dobson – his willingness to step out of his comfort zone has paid off, as he recently received a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America late last month for a song he co-wrote with prolific singer-songwriter and novelist Mike Blakely.

The award-winning song, “The Outside Circle” tells the story of a cowhand’s life, beginning with a young cowboy looking up to those who ride the outside circle – which, in cowboy terms, is the longest, roughest trail – then the song moves on to him taking pride in getting to ride it himself, and finally, him as an aging ranch foreman, looking back at the experience.

“The Outside Circle” – which is the album’s title track – along with two other songs Rogers co-wrote on Blakely’s most recent album, “The Bronc Man” and “Don’t Ever Sell Your Saddle,” tell stories reflective of the day-to-day experiences of a cattleman/horseman. Part of what resonates with listeners and Rogers’ collaborators is his authenticity when it comes to writing in that genre, as he truly lives the Western lifestyle.

Rogers and his wife, Nicole Martin, live in a small cabin on their ranch in Leonard, Texas, where they raise cattle, horses, goats and chickens, and one of their most prized possessions is a 1902 John Deere covered wagon.

“We have two or three laptops that we haven’t used in years, no TV – don’t want one – and we usually don’t run the AC,” Rogers told the Herald-Banner. “I try to work in the morning, then stay out of the heat in the middle of the day, then work until dark.

“I got to go out on the wagon twice, and lived in my bedroll,” he added. “Sometimes, when you work trails in places like parts of Arizona for 30 or more days, where you’re so remote, it’s still the most economical means of transporting what you need, since your so far from a gas station or anything.”

Rogers and his wife have also been using the wagon in a new, fledgling business venture for the last couple of years – a chuck wagon food service.

“We have a partnership with Tupps Brewery in McKinney, and we’re wanting to start a monthly craft beer, craft food and craft music experience, where we’ll have songwriters come out and perform their own original songs,” Rogers explained. “It’ll be called Songs and Stories from the Wagon at Tupps Brewery.

“We’ll have it on the second Sunday of every month, starting in September. During the events,  I’ll emcee and hand the mic to people in the crowd, so they can ask the songwriters about their songs.

“I’ve had some of my most powerful experiences listening to music while sitting on a tailgate with someone singing something they wrote,” Rogers said with a smile. “I want everyone who comes to this to feel like they’re on a tailgate with these songwriters.”

After winning his first accolade for songwriting, Rogers is appreciative to those who have given him support in the recent years.

“I’ve been writing on my own for about 30 years, but I would’ve never went to that first writer’s retreat if it hadn’t been for my wife pushing me to go,” Richard said laughing.

“When I went there, as a greenhorn, I thought, ‘I better come with some ideas,’” he recollected. “One of those ideas was something called ‘The Twist,’ and it had nothing to do with Chubby Checker...but I played it for Richard J. Dobson, without realizing who he was and he said, ‘I want a part of that.’ If I had known who he was, I would have bowed out.”

“I’d always seen myself as a cowboy, so in the past, every time I’d play something for someone and they’d tell me it was good, I’d just brush it off, but for Richard Dobson to want to write on an idea of mine, it meant a lot.”

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email THairgroveReporter@gmail.com.