LARRY “BULL” MAHAN
Larry Mahan, world champion rodeo rider, knows a thing or two about the bad boys of Texas and the rodeo – he used to be the poster child for both. His wild man approach to bull riding and living spilled over to the infamous line of cowboy boots he later designed in partnership with Hyer Boots. One admiring journalist wrote, “King of today’s rodeo cowboys, Larry (Bull) Mahan is not exactly your sedentary type, whether he is aboard a bronc, a bar stool, an airplane or an automobile racing at 100 mph to nowhere”
An eight-time world champion rodeo rider, he was the first superstar of the circuit whose charisma, wild ways and knack for self-promotion got him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson – and smack in the midst of bar brawls and adventures. He redefined the cowboy as the symbol of defiance and the safety-valve of individual expression.
His rock star approach to life was epic. In a hurry to get to the Daly City Cow Palace rodeo one night back in ‘73, his partner in crime recalled, “The man at the wheel in the white beaver hat, Navajo necklace and lizard-skin cowboy boots was a finely trained athlete at the peak of his powers. Plenty of nerve, reflexes of a great middleweight, the night vision of some kind of panther. As we bounced off the first curb and went sideways through the intersection, it briefly occurred to me: Are you sure about nothing to it? This man has spent half his life in plaster of Paris. But by then we had hit another curb. That turned out to be convenient, because it meant we had almost quit rolling when the police surrounded us and jerked us out of the car.”
“Don’t you think this outlaw shit done got out of hand?” – Waylon Jennings
A maverick, he sported loud silk shirts, pukka shell necklaces, psychedelic chaps and long hair. He piloted his own twin-engine Cessna from rodeo to rodeo, chauffeured his own black Cadillac limousine at unbelievable speeds, and raised hell like a rockstar. Newsweek Magazine dubbed him the “Cowboy in the Gray Flannel Suit”.
“Here’s a hell of a cowboy who carries an American Express card and skis with Billy Kidd,” says former bull-riding champion Droopy Brown. “Now what can you say about that?”
In ‘74 at an afterparty at the National Finals rodeo in Oklahoma City, whiskey and good ideas were flowing. “A group of free-thinkers was making plans for a Neo-Rodeo. Something new. Something challenging and updated. Jerry Jeff Walker suggested an event called “Boar in the Fire.” The cowboy races out into the center of a brilliant spot of light and confronts a 2000-pound wild boar inside a ring of fire. The cowboy’s job is to wrestle the boar from the fire, and then decide: what next? This is the crucial moment. “What would you do?” someone asked Mahan. Mahan thought a minute, then said: “I’d put him on a bus and send him to Waco.”“Perfect,” Jerry Jeff said, squirting Mahan in the mouth with the tequila watergun. “Small wonder you’re the champion.”
Mahan dramatically changed the rodeo profession by diversifying his own career into promotions and advertising, a western clothing line, publications, and his own rodeo schools and seminars. He started his much sought-after line of boots after retiring from the rodeo, and has been called the Michael Jordan of cowboy boots.
Mahan is one of the title characters in the song Ramblin’ Jack and Mahan. In 1976, he released an album on Warner Brothers entitled Larry Mahan, King of the Rodeo. In the 2007 movie No Country for Old Men, Josh Brolin’s character buys and wears a pair of “Larrys”.
One of our favorite stories about Larry Mahan and Jerry Jeff Walker happened at the same party in ‘74. “There had been two sets of parties the night before, a Cowboy Hall of Fame banquet honoring (among others) a rank Brahma bull named Tornado who in 200 times out of the chute had never been ridden, and of course the assorted victory parties in the hotel. When Jerry Jeff Walker staggered out of his hotel room the next morning clutching his guitar and one Irish fruit cake molded in the shape of the state of Texas, the room gave every indication that Tornado and several of his younger brothers who had also never been ridden had dropped by for cocktails.
The fruit cake had caused considerable uneasiness on the part of the bomb patrol at the Oklahoma City airport, and Jerry Jeff hadn’t facilitated matters by pulling a yellow plastic watergun from his pocket and shooting himself in the mouth with tequila. Now, in the Dallas airport coffee shop, waiting to change planes for the final leg home to Austin, the fruit cake caused more comment. “If that thing had legs I’d shoot it,” said Dixie, the counter waitress. “That happens to be the Larry Mahan Memorial Fruitcake presented annually to the craziest cowboy at the National Finals,” Jerry Jeff told Dixie. “That’s a real prize, honey,” Dixie said. “What are you gonna do with it?” “I’m gonna have it made into a belt buckle,” he said.
The fruitcake truly was a gift from Larry Mahan, the world’s best all-around cowboy. For the worst part of an hour the night before Jerry Jeff also had in his possession another trophy, Larry Mahan’s bull riding rope which he intended to place in his private museum along with Bobby Orr’s hockey stick. He couldn’t remember how it started, or even how it ended except the part about waiting at the hotel elevator which took forever to arrive. All the while, he was being pummeled by bull riders who, fortunately, are almost uniformly five-foot-eight, and besides, that being the night after the final go-round of the National Finals, were uniformly drunk as Tooter’s goat. “I can’t say I was impressed,” Jerry Jeff told Dixie. “I got beat up worse than that by a motorcycle gang in New Orleans last New Year’s Eve.”
“We went to Mahan’s room for the rope. Then I stopped by Bobby Steiner’s room wearing the rope around my neck, which was probably a mistake and explains these rope burns on my neck and wrists. Bobby Steiner either wanted me to sing ‘Charlie Dunn’ or didn’t want me to sing ‘Charlie Dunn,’ and I either sang it or didn’t sing it, I don’t remember which, but whichever, it was wrong. I was struggling to make the elevator, cowboys all around me, pushing, shoving, elbowing, calling me things I can’t repeat. I think I threw the rope at them like maybe it was Wonder Woman’s lasso.” “Honey,” Dixie said, “singing ’em a little song, that’s no reason to punch you up like that. Is there something you haven’t told us?”
“I think I sang them our new song.” “Did you sing the line about pubic hair?” Gary Nunn asked. “I’ll bet I did.” “That was your mistake, honey,” Dixie said. “Cowboys may cuss a lot but there’s one thing a cowboy won’t stand for, that’s somebody cussing in front of his wife.” Jerry Jeff rubbed ice on his forehead. It proved one thing: rodeo cowboys weren’t ready for a song about pubic hair.”