Alumni Highlight: Wayne Garner

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By Ryan Coody

With such a long history, Haskell has generated a significant number of notable alumni. Just as current students have a wide range of interests, alumni of Haskell have pursued a variety of career paths. Among those is an individual named Wayne Garner.

Garner, Cherokee, came to Haskell in 1999 to play football. In fact, he credits former coach Graham Snelding for “shaping and forming” his career. You see, Wayne is an accomplished musician.

He began playing guitar at the age of 7, and while at Haskell he and his friends would gather in the dorm rooms to play and write songs. Some of the coaches would even join in from time to time. While it was something he truly enjoyed, he never considered following it as a career until he came to Haskell.

Coach Snelding pulled him aside one day and suggested that he should take a shot at becoming a professional singer/songwriter, not just as a hobby, but as a career. About a year later he took that advice and formed a band. Eventually they signed a deal with Warner Bros. after performing for about a year.

Shortly later the band fell apart due to personal differences, but the experience stuck with Garner. He focused on school and football, but music never left him behind.

A few years later, Garner was living with fellow Cherokee and musician Jackson Taylor. Taylor encouraged Garner to get back into music, and he did just that.

Garner began traveling to any venue that would let him get up and play, and for a few months he was living in his car, driving around and playing music. He spent a lot of time in Wal-Mart parking lots and crashing on friend’s couches when available. It was a difficult period in his life when he was doing whatever it took to market himself and his music. “Those were dark times but also made me work even more hard, but I think it is always hard to come to a realization that you are a homeless person and at the mercy of others,” Garner said.

He was finally able to put another band together and met some friends in the recording industry. Shortly later they traveled to Omar Vellajo’s 512 Studio in Austin, Texas to record his first freshmen full length album. That seems to be the turning point in Garner’s story.

While recording, one of the album’s producers, Dan Johnson, played steel guitar on the album and joined Garner’s band afterwards. Garner said it was “a really great feeling to have someone of that [..] caliber to really believe in me as a singer/songwriter.”

“Shortly after I was approached by artist rep Frank Jackson from Smith Music/Smith Entertainment,” Garner said, and shortly afterwards he signed with the group. They released the album worldwide on May  14th, 2013.

The album has received good reviews, and on iTunes some of the comments left were “Best album out there!!!” by user Doc Newton, “Love it!!!!!!” by CardiacRN777, and Sooner5683 said “Great music!! Highly recommended! Plus the songwriter/singer is a total hottie!!”

Garner isn’t resting on the success of this album however. He is already looking forward to the future. ”I think the getting ahead part was something that I was able to do just by sticking to what I believed in and writing my own songs and not being a cover artist or in a cover band. I have learned that if you want to make it in this industry and do not have a lot of money than you have to write your own music and not be afraid to go out and perform it,” Garner stated.

Garner would like to see more native musicians out there and plans to help make that happnen. “There needs to be more original real Native American artists/perfomers that are taken serious through the entertainment industry and actually recognized by our tribes who should support that more.”

He says that it upsets him when he has to go out of his way to get a non-native booking agency to let him play in a tribal venue. Tribes have casinos, race tracks, and other venues that musicians like Garner can play at, but they aren’t managed by tribal booking agencies.

Obviously these agencies don’t give any preference to Native musicians. “I spoke to a sound operator at the Cherokee Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma about this [..] and he looked at me and started laughing saying it’s not about being Native American it is about the money you can bring in as an entertainer. I literally felt sick to my stomach and felt my heart hit the floor.”

After that moment Garner has been working to raise awareness within the music industry by trying to reach out and contact other artists affected by that situation.

“I went to my hotel room that night after our show and thought all night of what has happened to our proud people and what I can do to change it. If we as a Native American culture can’t support our artists than we are turning our backs on the future of our own artists careers.”

Alumni Wayne Garner

Alumni Wayne Garner