On Sunday May 19th cars lined Prentice Street, the Bluenose Gopher Public House was full of people celebrating the release of local musician Jerry Ostensoe’s new album titled simply “Jerry Ostensoe”. This latest release marks the 5th and final CD of a body of work that also includes a cassette and vinyl album.
The usual joy that comes with releasing an album, however, was subdued by a diagnosis Ostensoe received in late 2017 when he was told he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive, neurodegenerative disease. Hundreds of people of all ages from near and far attended the release party throughout the afternoon as Ostonsoe visited with friends and fans and autographed copies of his music.
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon at his home in Granite Falls this reporter had an opportunity to visit with Jerry who said, “The support at party was overwhelming. There were a lot of people, a lot of my railroad buddies, old friends, and several musicians came.” Adding, “I was never a big Facebook guy but I have a new respect for social media because the party was organized all in a weeks notice. People said incredible things to me at the party and I’m thankful that so many people have been very supportive throughout the years.”
Ostensoe first became interested in playing guitar when he was growing up in Canby. “There was a teacher in the Canby school named Laurie who had a guitar and I thought that was pretty cool. That was the first time I thought about playing guitar, it would have been 1957 or 58.” Ostensoe’s brother introduced him to early rock and blues music, “I really fell in love with blues because of my older brother - we always had a shared record collection. I missed out on music in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s because all I would listen to was blues music.”
Ostensoe’s new album stays true to his style of blues and when asked about his favorite track on the new album Ostensoe said “Whitestone Hill”. “I’m very proud of that song. I went to Whitestone Hill in Southeastern North Dakota and North Dakota is pretty flat so you can see for miles.” Adding, “It’s about a battle that happened there and over 300 native americans were killed, as well as 22 soldiers and it was the setting for many confrontations to follow … the thing I like about the song is that it’s not about us and them, it’s about us.”
Travel served as the inspiration for many of Ostensoes songs, “I always have had a love for the west, I’ve always felt a connection to it. I grew up in Canby which is in Minnesota but it feels like South Dakota, it’s kind of where the west begins in my mind … I always felt like something was going on out there and I was drawn to it.”
“I have written my best songs about it, there is more freedom and less people and I don’t mind being alone having time to think.” Ostensoe discussed a recent trip he took with lifelong friend Dave Smiglewski last year. “Smig is one of the people who understands that connection I have with the West and we took an amazing trip out there, it was a lot of fun…we tried to get our wives to come with but they wanted no part of it!”
“Smig is one of my best friends and he’s kept time for me or signed my paycheck for pretty much my entire life.”
Even with all of his traveling the Granite Falls and Canby area remains special to Ostensoe. “I still feel very connected to this area, especially with the hills just west of Canby. I’ll always consider this area home,” he said. Ostensoe moved into an old train depot in the spring of 1974 near Hawk Creek just outside of Granite Falls. “We used to swim in Hawk Creek but that was frowned upon.” He said with a laugh.
Sadly ALS took Ostensoe by surprise right when he considered himself to be entering the prime of his career and reaching his peak as a musician, “It was a big shock to me. I always wanted to be an old guitar player like a lot of my heroes growing up … it was hard to give up that dream.”
Within a month of recording his new music ostensoe couldn’t play guitar anymore. “They wanted me to redo the vocals on some of the songs but I couldn’t do it. There were some things with this album that I would have normally fixed but I couldn’t do it.”
“I consider these songs to be more honest. I like to think of it as three days in February 2017. Steve Kaul, the engineer on a lot of my projects, did a great job. I’m very happy with how the album turned out and I’m proud of it, I’m glad people enjoy it.”
The conversation with Ostensoe lasted well over an hour, we discussed our passion for music, our musical interests, and our love and interest for the West. One thing that became very clear is how unique Ostensoe is to the area. There aren’t many musicians that choose to stay in a rural area and enjoy the musical career that Ostensoe has for so many years. Yet, it’s role Ostensoe fills quite naturally and in many ways has helped to define what this place means to him and others through his musical stylings.
“My brother always asked me why I lived out here and told me I should move to a place where they appreciate music but I think I’ve had a good career out here and I’m glad I’ve had the support I’ve had from so many people throughout the years. I’m proud of what I’ve done.”