If mustangs had human voices, John Abernathy believes they would sing a song called "Runnin' In The West."
The song, with lyrics written by Abernathy, has become the basis of a television public service announcement promoting the adoption of wild horses. The lyrics recently won a nomination for a regional Emmy Award, one of television's highest honors.
"To me, this is success even though I still haven't made my first nickel (on the song)," he said. "I wrote the song from the mustang's point of view," said Abernathy, who is no stranger to horses. "I tried to help people understand how a wild horse must feel about living his life running free on the open range."
Abernathy is the son of an early rancher and homesteader in Arizona Territory. In his younger days, he followed the pro-rodeo circuit for two years, working as an announcer and competing in wild horse races.
He lived in Arizona and central California during his early years, before moving back to the family ranch near Tombstone, Arizona. Nearly 24 years ago, he took a job with BMI, where he now works as a Licensing Executive. Abernathy's BMI job is licensing restaurants and bars that use music, to help compensate BMI's 300,000 affiliated songwriters and copyright owners for their creative efforts. When BMI moved its General Licensing offices to Nashville in 1995, Abernathy was transferred to the new office.
Over the past 15 years, his sales territories have included Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, Oklahoma and West Texas. At 62 years of age, he still has the lanky frame of a cowboy. Although he has been able to spend only about one week per month in his sales region of beloved Western states, he wears cowboy-cut shirts and bolo ties to work every day in Nashville -- in an office building where every other male wears business dress shirts and ties.
"The bolo tie is the official neck tie of New Mexico," he explained. "The Governor declared it so by proclamation."
Although he had written a few song lyrics before moving to Nashville, he stopped writing until recently. "I think it was the yearning for the Southwest that made my mind seem to wander back in that direction," he said. He plans to retire from BMI on Dec. 31 and move back to Albuquerque. "I'm thinking of working with the BLM wild horse adoption program, following up on adoptions to assure that the animals are receiving good care, " he said.
After composing the lyrics to "Runnin' In The West," he shared them with co-worker Carl Behnke, who set them to music. Another BMI employee, Sam Lowe, recorded the song on a CD with two more of Abernathy's Western songs. When they decided to make a music video around "Runnin' In The West" with the guidance of music video producer Terry Bumgarner, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered extensive film footage shot during wild horse round-ups. Lee Delaney, former director of the wild horse and burro program in Washington D.C., viewed the video and liked what he saw. Delaney asked Abernathy to write and narrate two public service announcements based on the song and video for television.
Abernathy worked with producer Art Ferraro on the project. Upon completion, the television spots were distributed and telecast on stations from coast to coast. Abernathy said BLM officials have told him the spots have had a noticeable affect on public interest and visits at the BLM Eastern U.S. wild horse adoption facility in Cross Plains, Tenn.
Abernathy and other Emmy nominees were honored recently at a reception at the BMI offices in Nashville. Winners of the 16th Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards will be announced on Feb. 2 in ceremonies at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences bestows Emmy Awards to foster excellence in television.