The older gentleman was sitting in the back of the room. His head was kind of down. He would have been easy to miss.
But Peggy Malone saw him.
“She worked her way over to that man and was singing a song to him,” recalled Terry Nash, a cowboy poet who was entertaining a group that day at a Grand Valley senior home with Malone.
She played her guitar and continued to sing and pretty soon, the man’s head came up, his face lit up, and “he was just in heaven, just joy,” Nash said.
Of course, the man had no idea that the woman in front of him had won an EMMY Award or that she is in the Colorado Country Music Association Hall of Fame.
All that mattered was that Malone, her not quite 5-foot frame filled with contagious enthusiasm, was singing just for him.
“I want everyone to feel they are special,” she said.
MARRIED FOR 60 YEARS
Malone received her EMMY at the 2001 Heartland Regional EMMY Awards for “Singin’ A Cowboy Song,” a song she wrote and sang that was included in the PBS special “A Night At The Rodeo” that was produced by one of her sons, Brian Malone.
She was inducted into the Colorado Country Music Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and has won several of its awards: Entertainer of the Year in 2013, Female Vocalist Legend in 2015 and Female Vocalist of the Year in 2016.
Malone is a vivacious and dedicated performer and musician. But when asked what award she’s most proud of, she quickly responded, “I think, staying married 60 years. I deserve a gold medal!”
Bill, who she calls her “Billy Boy,” and Peggy Malone live on the edge of Fruita, where subdivisions leave off and farmland begins. He’s 88 and she’s 78, and their 60th wedding anniversary was May 27.
Their home is decorated with western art and family photos, and unless pointed out, the shelves that hold her awards could be easy to overlook.
Her stories and her music, however, aren’t easily missed and they both pour out of her.
Take the story of how she met Bill, for example.
Both grew up in the Boston area, she in an Italian family and Bill in an Irish family.
Her father rented horses and Bill liked to ride. Peggy was allowed to ride her father’s horses as long as she cleaned the stalls. They met when Peggy threw a shovel full of manure on Bill as he came around a corner.
“It was love at first smell,” Peggy said. “I was almost 16.”
They had to wait until she was 18 to get married. “My dad, boy, he didn’t take it well,” she said, referring more to the fact that Bill is Irish than to her young age.
She first saw Colorado on her honeymoon, and after several moves in and out or around the state, the Malones eventually settled in Castle Rock where they raised four kids — Sean, Brian, Danny and Beth — quarter horses and border collies.
‘THE GIRL NEXT DOOR’
Music is in her blood, Peggy Malone said.
Jerry Gray, a second cousin on her mother’s side, composed “A String of Pearls” that was recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, she said.
And her mother, while not an entertainer in a strict sense, could bring down a house anytime she liked.
“She was like being raised with Lucille Ball,” Malone said.
When her mother was living with them for a while on the Front Range, Peggy would take her along to her shows and her mother would sing half in English and half in Italian. It was a hoot and everyone was always asking when her mother’s next show would be, Malone said with chuckle.
As for herself, she took guitar lessons for about a year as a teenager and would play for her friends on her front porch.
She could always sing. It was just part of her being.
At one point, when she and Bill were living in the Conifer area, there was a nearby barn that hosted dances every Saturday night. She would go to sing and play her guitar. Eventually, she was told she needed to go to Denver to meet Buster Jenkins, the man who ran the music and comedy radio show, the Rocky Mountain Jamboree.
So she did, taking Bill along because “I was really shy back then,” she said. “(Jenkins) liked me right away. He hired me.”
The Rocky Mountain Jamboree went two hours for a live audience. The first hour was on the radio, and the second one was off. The newer performers generally were placed in that second hour.
“I got on the radio pretty quick,” Malone said.
But before she went on stage, Jenkins wanted to make one significant change. He wasn’t keen on her name, which is actually Frances.
“Frances doesn’t go with Malone very well,” he told her in a nasally voice she’ll never forget. “You look like a Peggy. You look like the girl next door.”
She’s been known as Peggy ever since.
‘IT WAS A GREAT SONG’
Peggy Malone has a wealth of stories from the Rocky Mountain Jamboree and the days when she sang in shows and in lounges in Denver and other places.
She sang everything, from music of the Broadway musical “Cats” to Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” the latter during a Jamboree show at a prison.
After that she started getting mail from prisoners. “I got a shotgun,” Bill Malone said.
But it was at the Red Ram in downtown Evergreen — “It’s called the Little Bear now” she said — where she really learned about entertaining. The Red Ram was a “wild place” and “the music was just incredible,” she said.
“They hired me as a country singer,” she said. She started out with about 15 minutes on stage and quickly began to get tips on how to improve.
There was this fantastic trumpet player and “he said, Peggy, when you do a word with two, three syllables, don’t break those syllables up.”
She was also told to sing to the audience and to not worry about messing up words, just ad lib. If you are uptight, the audience won’t be drawn in, she said.
Malone learned her lessons and she never lacked for gigs. She sang at the 50th anniversary gathering for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, she sang at the Brown Palace during the National Western Stock Show, she sang in commercials for Hillbilly Bread, and she learned a bunch of Irish songs just so she could play at an Irish restaurant in Littleton.
One of her favorite places to play was the lounge at the Stouffer Hotel near then-Stapleton International Airport in Denver. One night, four guys from the Appaloosa Horse Club were in the audience and asked if she would sing at the club’s national show in Montana.
Or course, she would! On the way there, with Bill and the kids in tow, she wrote the song “Appaloosa Running Through My Mind.”
“I wrote down the words and the music came right away,” which was unusual, Malone said. She sang it at the show and “they flipped over it.”
Not long after, “they voted it to become the official club song,” Malone said. “I just knew it was a great song.”
‘MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH’
For 15 years, Malone was hired to go on the Appaloosa Horse Club’s annual Chief Joseph Trail Ride, a four-day trail ride and camping affair. “It was wonderful,” she said.
She entertained around the campfire in the evening, and it often went late. “You’re keeping the bears away,” they teasingly told her to keep her playing.
Malone recorded her performances on those trail rides and sold them to her fans, something she also did with her live shows.
She does have two “real” CDs, but she’s lost count of the number of songs she’s written or memorized through the years. They come to mind when she needs them, when she’s telling stories or hears a certain chord, she said.
The first song she wrote as a teenager was half-country, half-American Bandstand and titled “Why Baby Why,” Malone said, a twinkle in her eye at the memory of her girlfriends begging her to play it.
Since then, she’s written poems that have become songs about horses and cowboys, western life or life in general and those who live it, but her most requested song ever is about armadillos.
For years and through all her travels, she had never seen one. Then, on a drive from Oklahoma, she saw a lot.
“Some were large, some were small, some were skinny, some were fat. One thing they had in common, they were all mashed quite flat! Armadillo! (‘Armadillo,’ audience response) Armadillo! (‘Armadillo!’) You are the weirdest creature in the land. With your silly armored jacket and your tiny little head, there must be nothin’ in it, cause you always wind up dead!” Malone sang.
“I like to make light of stuff,” she said. “I love making people laugh.”
“Armadillo” does have a moral, though: Always look both ways and listen before crossing the road, she said.
‘HER MUSIC IS SO RELATABLE’
“Peggy is amazing,” said Teresa Gonzalez, who was the activities coordinator at Family Health West for 13 years.
During that time, she watched Malone interact with older patients, singing and playing. “She’s engaging, she’s funny. … Her music is so relatable,” Gonzalez said.
“She brings little stick horses with her. I’ve seen everyone from the elderly to administrators to kids … everybody rides Peggy’s stick horses,” Gonzalez said.
Peggy was wonderful at birthday parties and around a campfire, but even if her audience was immobile or in memory care, Malone wasn’t deterred. “We’re talking people in Geri chairs who can’t move, who have no ability to clap and sing anymore, and she’s still right there,” Gonzalez said.
Malone has played at Christmas parties for bedridden patients. She’s done comfort care for those who are dying, Gonzalez said.
“I have seen faces light up and smiles irrelevant to where they are in their dementia,” Gonzalez said.
“The valley needs to realize what we have,” Gonzalez said. “She does amazing in those settings.”
Playing at nursing homes and assisted living residences is something Malone began in Castle Rock and continued when she and Bill decided to make Fruita their home in the late 1990s.
“To connect with them at this stage of their life is very special,” Malone said.
Before the pandemic hit, Malone performed in senior homes across the Grand Valley two to four times a week. And after COVID-19 shut things down, she recorded videos that could be shown.
She recorded in her bathroom, because the acoustics were so good, and she humorously named herself The Bathroom Balladeer.
Along with senior homes, which Malone finally has been able to return to, she performs at schools, at parties, weddings and funerals.
She also is a regular at cowboy poetry gatherings around the country, including the Western Slope Cowboy Gathering. In 2015, Malone, along with Nash and Nona Kelley Carver, revived the languishing Western Slope event as a growing celebration of cowboy poetry and western music.
This year, the Western Slope Cowboy Gathering is scheduled for Nov. 4–5 at the Grand Valley Events Center, and Malone will be part of the lineup.
‘SPARK OF HER PERSONALITY’
“I’m just dying to get back to what I love,” said Malone last week.
A cat scratch right on the side of her left thumb turned nasty and has made it impossible for her to play the guitar in recent weeks. She’s had to cancel performances, including one at the Glade Park Cowboy Show at the beginning of August, and she hates doing that.
She consoled herself in part by attending “An Evening with Beth Malone,” a fundraiser her daughter, who is a singer and actress, put on for the Denver Actors Fund at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Denver.
Her daughter’s next performance will be Sept. 11 at Theatre Aspen, Peggy Malone said with an ever proud smile. But Malone is still chaffing to get herself back in front of an audience.
She wants to play her guitar, to sing and smile and look directly into the eyes of those in her audience and make each person feel she is singing for them.
“She taught me about stage presence,” said Nash, an award-winning cowboy poet. “She knows how to project per personality into her presence on the stage.”
Malone is a talented singer and guitarist, but it’s the “spark of her personality” that draws all eyes to her, he said.
“She’s an angel who’s still here. There are a special set of wings waiting for that lady,” Nash said. “She brings so much joy into everybody’s lives.”