By Jessa McClure
On a sprawling ranch in the small town of Burke, South Dakota, singer/songwriter, Rehme Sutton spent her childhood riding horses, roping cattle, and participating in the rodeo circuit. Everything centered around the cowboy culture, even the songs she sang for special music at her country Baptist church.
But it wasn’t until she received a guitar as a gift her sophomore year in college that she truly found her voice, both as a songwriter and a storyteller.
“Once I was able to play my guitar decent enough to accompany myself, I played it for the college rodeos,” Sutton said. “A friend and I would play at church services at the [local] college rodeos.”
But despite early success with her music, Sutton wasn’t sure how her music would play into her future. She earned a doctorate of pharmacy from the University of Wyoming, and moved back home to look for a job and figure out what she wanted to do next.
Soon after returning home, a close friend told Sutton she was moving to Erath County, and Sutton agreed to help her move in the spring of 2011.
So, the two young women loaded up a Uhaul and drove down to Texas, where they would both find new career opportunities.
“I met [two guys] who had a recording studio in town. They asked me to play with them at a barbecue, and when it was over they told me I should record,” Sutton said. “I had always wanted a way for people to hear my music, but I hadn’t written a lot at that point.”
So, in the summer of 2011, Sutton packed up her horses, left the family ranch, and headed to Texas for a new life as a recording artist and a pharmacist for Tanglewood Pharmacy in Stephenville.
“I originally wanted to do a five-song EP, but in the process of being in the studio and being in that atmosphere, I was writing a lot,” Sutton said. “I ended up with 13 songs.”
Creating the album from start to finish took seven months, as Sutton continued to work as a pharmacist to fund her music. There were many days where the singer would work a full day caring for the facility’s patients, including those in hospice care, and then spend hours writing and recording music after her shift was over.
Both career paths meant a lot to Sutton, and she put her heart and soul into each one.
As Sutton began the process of putting her thoughts down on paper and crafting the songs that would become her debut album, she knew there was one person she wanted to pay tribute to—her brother Billie.
The two shared a close bond, and even shared a house while they both attended college. While they both enjoyed competing in the rodeo circuit, Billie was somewhat of a rodeo prodigy.
“He was a bronc rider, and had competed all over the country,” Sutton said. “He was in the circuit finals in Minot, ND when his horse flipped in the chute and completely shattered his twelfth vertebrae.”
In an instant, Billie’s future was put into question. He was paralyzed, and had to learn how to do everything again during his rehabilitation.
“He was supposed to take over the ranch and do great things in the rodeo circuit,” Sutton said.
But despite the heartbreak of losing the future he had planned his whole life, Billie didn’t give up hope.
“He left [the hospital] on December 21, we went home for Christmas, and then in January he went back to [college] to finish his last semester of his finance degree.”
“He ran for state senate when he was 26, and won,” Sutton said. “He just finished his seventh year, and helped pass a bill that will raise teachers’ salaries by $8,500 a year. He’s just a really incredible guy, and I wanted to write a song about him.”
But despite her desire to write a fitting tribute to the brother she so admired, Sutton found it difficult to put his story and her love for him into words.
“When I was first recording I was doing a lot of covers, but [the producer] said, we really need to have your own songs,” Sutton said. “I went home that night, and I had this tune in my head. I started writing, and within an hour I had the beginnings of ‘Billie’s Song.’”
She finished the song in a little under an hour and a half, which for Sutton felt like a miracle. The words fell into place on the page, with haunting lyrics like “That horse he loved flipped upside down. When he woke up he was wheelchair bound.” But even though the song is filled with pain and loss, it ends on a hopeful note with “This cowboy’s dream will come true.”
Sutton said this inspirational message is what she hopes listeners will take from her music, whether they hear it recorded or live.
“I want people who hear my songs to get something out of it,” Sutton said. “It’s a great feeling when somebody listens to my music and says it gives them goosebumps or it felt good to hear.”
The young songwriter said she loves creating narratives that others can relate to. Although she wouldn’t mind becoming a touring artist who performs at venues across the country, she is content for the moment to be creating music and encouraging others through her inspirational tracks.
“After Billie got hurt, I watched him go through his day. For him, just getting out of bed was work. So, now, when I’m feeling bad or feeling sorry for myself, I listen to ‘Billie’s Song’ and I think how thankful I am,” she said. “I want to be able to inspire other people when they hear my music.”
Sutton lives by a saying that her mother repeated to her when she was growing up—“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”
The singer hopes that those who hear her music will have the strength to keep going and persevere through whatever obstacles are in their way.
“My goal would be for everyone everywhere to hear my music and be inspired,” she said.
Photos by Leah-k photography