This cowboy's scared of horses

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 07:42 23/10/2012
tdn cowboy stand
Singing cowboy Jeff Olson

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Think "cowboys", and horses will generally start to gallop about in your head.

But that association doesn't particularly fit the persona of dress-up cowboy Jeff Olson.

When talking to the Taranaki Daily News from his Connecticut home in the United States, Olson let the cat out of the bag.

"Would you like to know a secret?" he asked.

Too right, I would.

"I have an absolute fear of horses. I did try to get over my fear once, because I had a girlfriend who said; 'Jeff, if you're ever going to get over this fear, you need to go horseback riding' - so I did."

He was put on a horse and when everyone else cantered off in one direction, his horse took off at a full gallop back to the barn.

"That was the first and only time I've ever been on a horse and I'll never do it again," he said.

"I love to look at them from a distance, they're gorgeous animals, but I don't like to get close to them."

Despite not mustering cattle on horseback for fun, Olson said there was no character other than the cowboy that he would rather portray.

"We have grown into these characters, they have meshed with our personalities. I don't think I've ever considered changing my costume or my character, and I don't think anybody has.

"I feel very comfortable with it, plus I don't have to iron my clothes."

Since he joined the Village People in 1980, Olson said other than replacing original biker Glenn Hughes, who died of lung cancer in the late 1990s, there had been minimal changes.

The group - which also includes an American Indian, a construction worker, a military man and a police officer - has virtually worked continuously since they formed in 1977.

"Every day that we're on the road we say it's pretty amazing that we're still doing this."

Olson said it baffled them to this day how they continued to pull in the crowd numbers they did, after 35 years of performance.

"Admittedly, we don't have that many hits - maybe four or five.

"But they were so huge they have made our careers possible for this length of time."

The keen gardener said the group had become multi- generational and no longer played for specific age groups.

"We get the little kids, the parents of the kids, the grandparents and the great grandparents. It's just an amazing thing to see all these people enjoying it."

And the song their audiences loved the most?

You guessed it: YMCA.

"We can go anywhere in the world and people know the song. I don't exactly know how or why," Olson said.

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"When communism fell and the Berlin Wall fell, we started going to Eastern European countries and they all knew it. It was like, how do you guys know this?

"But it is what it is, and we're not complaining," he said.

While debate has gone back and forth regarding whether the Village People fit into the pop or disco genre, Olson said when it came down to it they were what they were.

"We have been called dance icons, disco icons and the icons of the 70s era.

"What we are not is contemporary. I mean it would be a joke to think that we are," he said.

"We are what we are known for and that is dance, a good time and nothing serious."

As well as selling more than one million albums worldwide, the Village People have also appeared on TV shows, including Married with Children, and toured with the likes of Boy George, Duran Duran, Kool and the Gang and Cher.

"We toured with Cher for several years, actually, on her retirement tour. Of course, she never really did retire, which is probably why the tour went on for so dog-gone long."

Due to their easily recognisable characters, the group has also frequently been imitated in films, television series, video games and, of course, at costume parties around the world.

Olson said the main reason was due to their costumes being easily achievable.

"It's an easy thing to mimic. All you have to do is get a cowboy hat, a cop outfit, etc. You put them all together and suddenly you have the Village People."

He often visits internet video site YouTube to catch the latest impersonations.

"It's funny to see how people mimic the group, it's just hilarious."

Having played in New Zealand a number of times since 1981, Olson said Taranaki was one place that they hadn't marked off on their map.

"I thought Wellington was good, but when I was there someone said to me wait till you get to New Plymouth."

With the group set to take the stage at New Plymouth's TSB Stadium on November 30, Olson took the liberty of inviting the entire public to head along and join in the fun.

"We don't sit around and sing ballads. It's all choreographed, and I can guarantee whoever comes will have a good time.

"They're gonna smile, they're gonna dance, they're gonna let their hair down and just let loose."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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