A career as a cowboy and a country musician seemed an unlikely future for Dan Roberts ’76. He grew up in Oregon, majored in history at Westmont and played college baseball. His first job was working with a sports ministry. How did he end up in Nashville?
Dan first performed with the Dean’s List, a Westmont group he and five friends formed to sing at Spring Sing and around campus. He moved to Prescott, Ariz., to work with the sports ministry, did a little rodeo work there and learned how to shoe horses. Then he settled in Branson, Mo., and started working at Kanakuk Camps, singing and leading music. He loved it. Still single, he decided to try his hand at song writing in Nashville. Throwing his guitar and shoeing tools in the back of a battered yellow pick-up, he drove east. He still marvels that his wife, a student at Vanderbilt when they met, went on dates with him in that truck with its cracked windshield and dented fender. She earned a nursing degree and worked for a pediatric clinic at the university while Dan shoed horses, built houses and pursued his music.
He was ready to give up in 1993 when Garth Brooks asked him to contribute songs to a new album. Brooks, Dan and Bryan Kennedy then co-wrote a No. 1 hit, “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” which led to an invitation to join Brooks on his 1996-1997 world tour. Dan and Bryan opened 275 shows for him.
While Dan loves all country music, cowboy songs are his favorite. He wrote and performed the tunes on the albums “There’s a Little Cowboy in All of Us” and “Cowhand.com.” He won awards as Male Vocalist of the Year 2001 and Entertainer of the Year 2002 from the Academy of Western Artists. His third CD “Viva La Cowboy” received three Grammy Recognitions in 2003 and featured two chart singles on the Texas Music Chart: “I’m the One to Call” and “Swingin’ Till We Can’t See Strait.”
In 2000, Dan moved his wife and three children to Aledo, Texas, where he owns 30 acres outside of Fort Worth. Then his 6-year-old daughter, Austin, developed brain cancer, and Dan left the stage as she battled the disease. After surgery and three months in the hospital, she went into remission. Less than a year and a half later, the tumor returned. Dan had met a leading UCLA neurosurgeon around a campfire when he performed for Rancheros Vistadores in Santa Ynez, Calif. The doctor described a new technique that maps a patient’s brain and makes precise cuts with laser-guided technology. Austin underwent a second surgery at UCLA using this procedure in June 2002 and has been in remission ever since. She is now 15, a straight-A student and avid volleyball player.
Because this technology helped their daughter, Dan and Carol raised $4.5 million to bring it to Cook Childrens Hospital in Fort Worth. Garth Brooks came out of retirement to perform and brought in $2 million in one night.
Dan didn’t return to the music business full time after Austin’s illness. He sells farm and ranch real estate, manages two ranches and shoes a few horses. “Now I go to Little League, basketball and volleyball games instead of concerts,” he says. His 17-year-old son competes in team roping. Dan still entertains, playing 15-20 corporate events a year, and he sells CDs through his Web site (oldbootsmusic.com). “Music is fun, but it can’t hold a candle to the joy of waking up every day to my beautiful wife and raising three awesome kids,” he says.