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VOL. 42 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 12, 2018

Ready for step up? How about $2,600 for water buffalo?

By Tim Ghianni

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Custom boots from Music City Leather made from ostrich and baby buffalo.

-- Facebook.Com/Musiccityleather

High-rolling cowboys like Johnny Carson’s band leader and trumpet genius Doc Severinsen, corporate big dogs, the wild and crazy folks in the world of bull riding and many music stars take giant steps away from boot store fare when seeking their high-heeled swagger.

Those types of folks have their boots made exclusively for their feet and senses of personal style by custom boot makers.

Two of the more prolific are Wes Shugart of Brentwood and his friend Dean Randolph out in Canyon, Texas.

“The cowboy’s always been interesting to people who aren’t cowboys,” says Randolph, explaining the surging popularity of his boots, as well as the “store-bought” ones. “Everybody wants to be a cowboy, that’s a fact.

“You put a pair of cowboy boots on and you think you are a cowboy,” says the owner and proprietor of Dean Randolph Custom Boots, who makes the footwear for Jason Aldean and for almost everyone associated with Pro Bull Riders – the life-or-limb daredevils as well as PBR officials and announcers.

“Don’t call them a cowboy until you see them ride,” he adds, with a laugh.

Shugart, his friend in the boot-making world, operates out of his home in the Concord Road area. The only way you’ll get his actual address is if you make an appointment to have some boots made.

“I like to stay hidden,” he points out. “If I had a shop down on Broadway, I’d have every Tom, Dick and Harry stopping in to talk about boots.” But they’d be unlikely to buy anything, as each pair takes him about two weeks to make and the base price is $2,000.

“The average is $2,100 to $2,600. That includes water buffalo, French calf, bison, kid skin and others. I keep an array of leather to pick from,” Shugart continues.

“Upgrade (aka ‘more money’) for ostrich, alligator, kangaroo and a couple other exotics…. The most popular with men for everyday boots would be water buffalo, then maybe ostrich, bull hide or something along those lines.

“Women really like the kangaroo. It’s real soft. It’s real durable for what it is.”

Right now, his waiting list is between seven months and a year. Besides Severinsen, his celebrity clientele includes “Everything is Beautiful” and “Ahab the Arab” songwriter/showman Ray Stevens.

He also gets a lot of business from the singer-songwriter crowd.

In addition to bro-country hero Aldean, real cowboys often visit Canyon, Texas, to pay Randolph a base price of $1,200 (it only goes up from there) to build them a pair of boots. Depending on “how many bells and whistles you want” it could go up to $4,000. “Just like a car.”

And there’s a year’s wait to get them, says Randolph, who made chaps and did other leather work, including rodeo equipment, before getting into the boot-making business about six years ago.

“I already had a leather shop, so it wasn’t like I decided to quit being an accountant and start making boots,” he says, noting that he already wore custom-made boots.

“My little boy, when he was 4, I wanted to get him some boots made. I was getting this guy to make them,” Randolph recalls. “He’d only get six months out of them by the time he outgrew them, so I decided I will just make them on my own.”

Shugart, like Randolph, turned to boot-making six years ago after leaving another profession.

“I was actually in high-end construction, doing homebuilding and came across boot-making as a hobby and then I turned it into a full-time career in 2012.”

Both men found mentors out in the Western frontier to teach them the cowboy boot way.

In addition to Aldean, Randolph’s show/shoe business customers include country oldie Moe Bandy, who melts hearts in Branson.

“And I made chaps for Steven Tyler (the Aerosmith front man who miserably walked the wrong way and toyed with country music stardom). And (Waylon’s kid) Shooter Jennings, made him a pair of boots.”

There are all types of high-rolling customers who have foot molds in storage in Canyon, so they can order new boots just by telephone or email.

But he specializes in making boots for the cowboys of the Pro Bull Riders.

“I always said I wanted to make boots for the guys that rode the cow, not the guys who fed the cow,” Randolph says, adding that he is so successful in that world that TV announcers will say that riders who are kicking their angry bull “are giving them the Randolphs.”

As for his basic style: “I make boots that looks like a rodeo rider’s boot. A little outside the box…. Cool is the word. I just make them look cool.”

“I make mainly a dress boot,” says Shugart. “It’s Nashville. People aren’t getting on their horse at daybreak and riding until the sun goes down.”

Many of his boots end up in corporate boardrooms, though he has a worldwide client base “from Belgium to India to boots all over Texas….

“My style is kind of a vintage ’40-’50, with a big, new, Mexico buckaroo style.”

And depending on the use of the boots, heel-height is customized by the bootmakers.

Cowboys generally wear “1¾ inch heels, good enough to keep you in the stirrups,” says Shugart, adding a company exec “wants a ¾-inch heel,” comfortable for walking around the office and looking cool when hoisted atop his or her desk during a meeting.

Neither of these highly regarded boot-makers criticizes folks who shop for their footwear along Lower Broadway and elsewhere.

Randolph calls that type of boot “disposable, not the kind of stuff a real cowboy would wear.” But just fine as a souvenir.

“I think that’s for what they are, they are OK,” Shugart adds. “There’s nothing wrong with an off-the shelf boot, if you are going to wear them just once a year when you fly into Nashville to listen to music.”

These men’s boots and those of other well-known bootmakers should be regarded as more of an investment.

“It depends on how you take care of them,” Randolph says. “You got to keep them oiled and conditioned. If you take care of them, they’ll last as long as you want them.

“If you don’t take care of them, they’ll last a year or two.”

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