Juan Urrutia

Juan Urrutia came to Idaho in the late 1960s from the town of Gizaburuaga in Bizkaia to herd sheep and was working for Bill Jones, of Hagerman, at the time of this recording.  Juan is playing the chromatic harmonica in these three songs.  His detail to notes and rhythms is impressive and you can tell that Juan spent time practicing songs that he recalled from memory while after fulfilling his job responsibilities as a camp tender for the Jones sheep outfit.  He never had any formal training in music, but enjoyed practicing songs by ear and also enjoyed singing. Music was a great form of entertainment to break up the long days of those working with the sheep in the mountains.  Juan’s is an example of the type of music that was played in many sheep camps throughout the American West.  He returned to the Basque Country in 1974 and has since passed away.  One of his grandchildren, however, seems to now show an interest in the harmonica so the tradition may continue in his family.

To have an actual recording of a camp tender, or sheepherder, playing music is rare due to the lack of recording equipment available in the areas where they traditionally grazed sheep. Juan’s wonderful music was recorded by his cousin, John Urresti, 13 years old at the time, at the urging of his father, Paul Urresti, while visiting him in the mountains1.  Juan Urrutia is in his sheep camp in the Stanley Basin area in Idaho 1973.  If you listen closely to the second song – you can hear the baaing of sheep in the background.

Juan Urrutia, musician and camp tender, on the left, with his cousins, Paul Urresti (center), and Jose Antonio Urrutia, sheepherder (right), at a sheep camp outside of Stanley, Idaho in August 1973.

Audio Recording: 
Jota, played at the Harmonica by Juan Urrutia.
Polka, played on the Harmonica by Juan Urrutia, 1.