Don Edwards has been through a thing or two in his 69 years. A devotee of the singing cowboy movies as a kid, he ended up being sought out by Robert Redford to sing and act in The Horse Whisperer. His "Coyotes" was featured in Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. (It was Timothy Treadwell's favorite song.) More recently, calling from the road in Winnemucca, Nev., Edwards can boast another first: touring the West Coast while his hologram works the Midwest.
So what's it like, competing with your own doppelganger?
"Yeah, competing with me that's about right, isn't it? Oh, it's an amazing thing," says Edwards, whose hologram is currently touring the Midwest festival and fair circuit.
The Texas Tourism Board, in order to help promote the state as a vacation destination, flew Edwards to New York last year and recorded his performance in front a holographic camera.
"It was like some Star Wars thing in my 50-year career, I never encountered anything like it," says Edwards, who lives in the central Texas town of Hico (pop. 1,341) and records for Scott O'Malley's Colorado Springs-based Western Jubilee label. "It's all kind of bizarre, really. Like Scott says: "You can see him you can hear him, but you can't touch him.'"
Edwards' most recent album, Moonlight and Skies, includes a version of "Coyotes" as well as two Jimmy Rodgers covers ("Land of my Boyhood Dreams" and the title track). Growing up, Edwards says, he took to Jimmy Rodgers' bluesy kind of yodeling, which was easier to learn than the alpine yodeling of men like Will Carter.
His newly completed album, Heaven on Horseback, will include a pair of Kris Kristofferson songs, though he figures a lot of other contemporary singer-songwriters aren't really doing folk music.
"It's more about them than it is about the folks," he says.
Having worked as a cowboy in his teens he still raises a few cattle Edwards has mixed feelings about Hollywood's romanticizing of the American cowboy.
"Just because he was on horseback, they thought he was like King Arthur's knights of the roundtable," says Edwards. "They didn't do that to miners and loggers and plumbers."
Contemporary country, he suggests, does much the same thing.
"These guys are making millions of dollars and they're wearing $3 plastic hats I mean, what's that, you know?" Edwards says, laughing. "My gosh, I'm just a pilgrim, and I wear six- and seven-hundred dollar hats. I mean, a cowboy would spend a month's wages on a hat and a pair of boots. He didn't care what he had on between them."
Old-time cowboys, Edwards says, "had a strong code of ethics, just as any of the rural people do to this day, because they live close to the land and the land dictates everything. And this is what you can't tell the industrialists. Without that connection to our past, there isn't a future."
Which is why Edwards is delighted that young people still come up to him wanting to learn more about this American cultural tradition.
"It makes you feel good," says Edwards, "that you spend a lifetime doing this and maybe somebody will hang onto it."