Denise Withnell started playing guitar with Cowboy Celtic in January 1996, and her vocals can be heard on the most recent Drover Road CD and on the previous CD, Cowboy Ceilidh.
Denise was raised in cattle ranching, farming and rodeo country, and her mother still lives out on the homestead in the middle of the Alberta prairie. In fact, her mother raised chickens and sold their eggs to make the extra money that put all six of her children through years of classical piano lessons.
Denise’s family is a musical one — her father played the sax all of his life, right up until he passed away in the late 1990s, and two of Denise’s siblings are professional musicians. Her love for Celtic music and songs comes naturally, as her mother, whose roots are Irish, and her Scottish-born grandmother taught her and her brothers and sisters traditional Scottish and Irish songs and rhymes as they were growing up. As for the interest in cowboy music, her uncle did the same with cowboy songs. However, his repertoire isn’t nearly as vast as David Wilkie’s, and she says it is really David’s passion for the music and history of ‘things musical, cowboy, Celtic and cattle-related’ that have sparked her interest the most.
Denise has long had a passion for horses and country life. As a kid, she and two other girlfriends would saddle up on weekends and head out for overnight camping trips. (That’s when she learned that it’s not always a good idea to sleep under the stars – unless you are able to control the weather …) Denise claims to be pretty rusty when it comes to riding these days, but a 75-mile trail ride from New Mexico to Colorado, scheduled for this July, should cure that.
Denise speaks fluent French, and while obtaining her BA from the University of Alberta, she sang alto with the university’s French choir (Chorale du Collège St-Jean). She also danced with La Girondole, a French-Canadian traditional ‘giguing’ group that has been going strong for over 25 years. Denise performed traditional French-Canadian music and dance at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ’88 in Brisbane, Australia, and Expo ’92 in Sevilla, Spain.
Denise has been singing at events since she was five years old, and played in several bands and folk duos in Edmonton and Calgary before deciding to study jazz at Grant McEwan College in Edmonton. In 1989, she obtained a diploma in jazz music, specializing in vocal studies. She has sung harmony vocals on several recordings for other artists, and is currently working on her first solo CD, which will feature mostly western swing music.