Country crooner proves it is never too late to follow dreams

August 15, 2014 at 10:15 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Self-proclaimed “last living cowboy in St. Charles Parish” Donald J. Horn has played guitar and sung for over 60 years, but only began performing publicly at age 77.
Self-proclaimed “last living cowboy in St. Charles Parish” Donald J. Horn has played guitar and sung for over 60 years, but only began performing publicly at age 77.
Last year Des Allemands resident Donald J. Horn mounted the stage at Luling Living Center for his first performance as a country musician.

“I was very nervous,” he said.

At 77 years old Horn, the self-proclaimed “last living cowboy in St. Charles Parish,” was embarking on a new path in his life. The first song he sang to the gathered audience was “Amazing Grace,” something he had sung by himself numerous times before. He said starting off with a hymn was a calculated effort on his behalf and following that first successful performance he has been sure to start each show with a hymn.

“I am giving Jesus the credit,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of hymns and I make sure that one of those hymns comes out in the performance when I am playing.”

Prior to that first performance, Horn had been honing his guitar playing and singing ability by practicing each night on a stage he built in the living room of his home.

“I built the stage because I want to be looking down, not up. If I am singing for you and I am looking right at you, I don’t feel I am important enough,” he said. “When you get up on that stage I am not Don Horn no more, I am a performer. I am going to present myself to anyone who will listen, but I am going to be like a real country singer.”

Since that initial show Horn has been off and running for the past year and has strung together a number of performances, most notably at the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office “Night Out Against Crime” where he performed in front of a crowd numbering in the hundreds for two and a half hours in the blistering heat.  

Horn’s strange path to becoming a performer in his late 70s started off in Taft where he was born in 1936. That is where Horn first became a cowboy, partially due to his adulation for heroes Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. In reality, his early life was far less glamorous.

“My daddy used to work at a dairy for 25 cents an hour. He used to go get the milk cows with a headlight on his head at 3 a.m. to bring them to the dairy to get them washed and milked,” he said. “I was born in the depression. He used to go to the store with stamps, no money.”

Horn is quick to say although he and his four siblings came from a poor household, their family made ends meet.  

“We always had something to eat. We never had money, but we never went to bed hungry,” he said. “We always had something Mom fixed even if it was just bread, butter, honey and Karo syrup and oatmeal in the mornings and peanut butter and blackberry jam in a paper bag to school.”

As a child for fun he would sneak into nearby fields and try to ride the horses bareback.

“They used to be racing horses. I used to go over there with a friend of mine and we used to get on them ponies until they threw you off,” he said.

For Horn, country music was always connected to the cowboy lifestyle and a large part of that was introduced to him through AM radio.

“We had one radio and he had it on WWL and there were two fellas that played the guitar and sang, ‘Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon.’ I was eight years old when I heard that,” he said.  

After that he was hooked on country and through a fluke a few years later he received his first guitar.

“I got my first guitar at 10 years old. A friend of my daddy, he went to go do some work for a fella. Somehow he gave him a few dollars and brought it home,” he said.

Because he was so busy with other aspects of life and lived in a rural part of St. Charles Parish, Horn never received guitar lessons and did not learn how to play the instrument very well early in life.

As a teenager Horn jumped at the chance to work and became a real life cowboy and began working with livestock at the Bob Landing racetrack in Taft where horse and car races used to be held.

“I started breaking horses when I was 14 years old,” he said.   

Later on he bought his own pony and rode him in a race, but his career was over nearly before it began after the horse raked him against the gate, injuring him, prior to his first and only race.

Later on in life parade-goers could occasionally see him riding a red stallion he kept in the Krewe of Des Allemands Mardi Gras Parade.

By the time he was 16 he dropped out of Hahnville High School. By 18 years old he was married with a child and from there went on to have three sons altogether that he supported through working at Avondale Shipyard for the next 22 years.

During that time he only played guitar and sang sporadically.

“It’s hard coming home from working all day and picking up the guitar. You are tired and dirty and just want to rest,” he said.

After leaving Avondale in the mid-1970s Horn bounced around working construction jobs at nearly every industrial plant in St. Charles Parish before ultimately retiring at age 62 after spending the last 12 years of his career at Carter Chambers valve company in Luling. That is when he first started getting back into playing music, wrote a few songs and began to build a repertoire that has now grown to about 100 songs almost exclusively by classic county musicians with some of his favorites being Hank Williams Sr., George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hank Thompson and Jack Green.

“They put something in your soul,” he said. “If you don’t have a handkerchief you better get one or you are going to cry all over your sleeve. It is an emotion in your body and they bring it out of you. I put myself in those people.”

It was not until over a decade after he retired and when his second wife was a patient at Luling Living Center - where she ultimately died last year - that he really began to think about the future and about performing for crowds.

Now 78, Horn said he is trying to make up for lost time as well as inspire those around him and those who attend his shows, especially children.

“I am trying to catch up all of the years I lost,” he said. “I am doing this for the children. These boys and girls can’t get away from the TV or telephone. They sleep late. I want to show them at my age I shouldn’t be doing all of this, but I am doing it to impress them. Look! You’ve got proof for someone who is 10 or 12 years old and doesn’t think they have a reason to be going. ‘Look Mr. Horn can do it so I can do it too!’”

Although he understands that some people may think his story is a strange one, he only has one thing to say.

“It is never too late. Don’t give up your dreams. Always hold onto that dream. With the good lord you will make it,” Horn said.  

Horn is currently planning to record his first album of original music. Those interested in having Horn play a show for them can contact him at (985) 870-0223.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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