Terry Raff made his debut sporting a coonskin hat, beads, moccasins and leather pants. The year was 1986 and the site was Kamiah’s Lewis-Clark Resort.Raff had been a performer since age 5, and sang in high school barbershop quartets and the church choir.
“But to sing alone, professionally, I had never even thought about it,” he said.
The resort had paid Raff $15 to play guitar and sing for RVers, after the resort discovered him at a Lewiston talent show.
“An RVer is a person who owns a motorhome,” Raff said. “They travel all over the country and stay in RV parks.”
And RVers want entertainment.
“I didn’t know how I should dress,” Raff said. “The thought came into my mind to put on my mountain man clothes. I had started a mountain man club back in another state. It sounded kind of funny.”
With approval from his wife, Raff threw on the clothes and showed up to perform.
“Hi,” he said. “My name is Terry Raff, and I’m called the Singing Mountain Man.”
Seventeen albums and 27 years later, the name stuck and Raff will play the Lewis-Clark resort again.
“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories,” said the old-time balladeer, who retired in 2007 after spending two decades on the road.
Raff performed all over the Southwest, including California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Montana, Missouri and his favorite, Rio Grande Valley, Texas, where he pitched a tepee the first time he visited. Raff often performs outdoors around a campfire.
He became famous among RVers, he said, because he sang songs that the crowds grew up with.
“A lot of the songs that I do are songs that were famous in the late 1800s or early 1900s that I learned from my dad,” Raff said.
His repertoire includes songs such as “The Strawberry Roan,” “Cool Water,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Raff has a gospel album, a patriotic album and a Christmas album. He has an album called “By Special Request,” which was soon followed by “More Special Requests.”
“I’ve kind of run out of steam in my old age, but I would have loved to have done songs just for children or songs from around the world,” Raff said. “There’s still a lot of songs in the back of my brain that I’ve never recorded, but I don’t know if I ever will.”
Along with historic music, Raff loves to teach his audiences about cowboy history through his workshop “Cowboy 101.”
“I sing to you and tell you some stories and you’ll learn the history,” Raff said. “I feature certain songs that tell a little bit about the cowboy way, and then I have a quiz. Whoever gets the most right, gets the free album.”
A month ago in Southern Idaho, an audience member hit a record-high, receiving 18 out of 25 correct. Raff will perform “Cowboy 101” at the Lewis-Clark Resort.
“I want to see if these people can do any better,” Raff said. “I’d like to find someone who can get 100 percent.”
Raff will also perform 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Lewiston’s Brackenberry Square as part of Sound Downtown. His 7 p.m. Thursday performance at Lewis-Clark Resort will act as a fundraiser for the Kamiah Valley Historical Museum.
Treffry can be contacted at (208) 883-4640 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @LindseyTreffry.
-If you go:
WHAT: Terry Raff, the Singing Mountain Man, performs
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday; 6:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Lewis-Clark Resort, 4243 Highway 12, Kamiah; Brackenbury Square, 605 Main St., Lewiston
COST: Donation; Free
NOTE: The resort will also host a spaghetti night at Sacajawea Café prior to Raff’s outdoor concert.