Peggy Malone – “Pickin’ Peggy Malone” to her many fans – has performed country music in nursing homes for nearly half a century. Now that the novel coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible to visit those homes, Malone has taken to her bathroom.
Not to sulk. It’s become her sound booth.
She records performances in the loo of her Fruita, Colorado home and puts them on Facebook. Or performs live via the Zoom meeting app. They connect online with nursing home residents closed up in their rooms around the Western Slope’s Grand Valley.
“I just thought, ‘jeepers, I have to do something.’ I just love those people so much,” said the 76-year-old performer of her bathroom balladeering.
Don’t worry though, the crooning doesn’t come while she sits on the pot.
“I would never do that. That’s important to know,” she said with a big laugh.
Malone has made music since she was a youngster. She regularly rode her horse from her family’s ranch into the then small town of Castle Rock. Her mother always sang around the house. Her mother’s cousin was the music director for the Glenn Miller Band and wrote some of Miller’s most popular songs, including “String of Pearls.”
Music was an important part of home life on the horse ranch.
Malone’s first paid gig was playing for an event at an automobile dealership for $10. In the early 1970s, she went on to play in Denver’s version of the Grand Ol’ Opry – a radio show called “The Rocky Mountain Jamboree.” She was nicknamed “the little girl with the big voice.” During the annual National Western stock shows, she was hired to play many a Denver hotel, including the Brown Palace and the Radisson.
For more than seven years, she had a regular singing engagement at a then-popular bar called “Maxie’s” in the Cherry Creek Inn. She also had her own bi-weekly radio show that was based out of Castle Rock.
Along the way, Malone earned heaps of awards. She won a Patsy Cline Sing Alike Contest. She was one of the 5 top nominees for the Best Female Vocalist of 2001 by the Western Music Association. That same year, her song, “Singin’ a Cowboy Song,” won an Emmy.
She has been a featured performer at numerous Cowboy Poetry Gatherings throughout the nation. In 2000, she performed at the World’s Fair in Hanover Germany. For 15 years she has entertained participants in the annual Chief Joseph Trail Ride that takes riders 100 miles along the route that the famous Nez Perce warrior took when he retreated across Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.
Performing in nursing homes has always been a favorite part of Malone’s career. The gigs have stretched out for more than 20 years around Castle Rock and more than 25 years in the Grand Valley.
Over the years, she’s learned exactly which songs her older listeners are going to request and respond to over and over because they trigger memories. Sometimes, those performances involve getting some of the spryer folks in the audience on stick horses. There’s always a singalong and it’s rare to have a show without a yodel.
“If you could just see their faces,” she said of the nursing home audiences. “Their smiles are just beautiful. They are having so much fun.”
She makes it a point in every performance to make eye contact with every single member of her audience. She has perfected that over the years by crafting a small speaker dolly she can drag around as she plays her guitar and sings and gets up close to her audience.
That’s what she misses while she is alone in her bathroom.
As “the bathroom balladeer,” she’s gussied up in her finest western wear – a big hat, a snap-button western shirt and a vest or fringe jacket – and always a neckerchief. Tragically, she had to give up her cowboy boots; they made too much noise when she taps her feet on the bathroom linoleum. And then she belts out her tunes. Pandemic be damned.