The Cowboy Philosopher | Hidden Brain In 2009, an old man died in a California nursing home. His obituary included not just his given name, but a long list of the pseudonyms he'd been known to use. In this episode, we trace the life of Riley Shepard, a hillbilly musician, writer, small-time con man and, perhaps, a genius.

The Cowboy Philosopher: A Tale Of Obsession, Scams, And Family

The Cowboy Philosopher

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As a young girl, Stacya Shepard Silverman idolized her dad. He was handsome and smart and a great cook. He spent his days typing away in their small Hollywood apartment on a massive writing project: an encyclopedia that would cover the entire history of American vernacular music.

Richard Riley Shepard's interest in music stretched back to his childhood. He dropped out of school in the fifth grade and decided to try his luck as a hillbilly musician. In the 1940s, he cut country western records, including a few small hits. He also worked as a promoter for a variety of famous singers, including the Andrews Sisters and Red Foley.

But by the time his daughter Stacya was born, Riley had dropped out of the music business and begun work on his encyclopedia.

"I was told constantly that we were artists," recalls Stacya. "That there were artists, and there were ordinary people, and we were artists."

Stacya says her relationship with her dad changed when she was 12 years old. One day, the house phone rang, and she picked it up. It was an old man.

"His voice was shaking and I could tell he was elderly and he just sounded like a mean old man to me," Stacya recalls. "He scared me, and he told me that my father was a crook, that my father took his life savings. The phone is in my ear and he's saying, 'Your father is a crook, did you know that? Your father is a crook!'"

This week on Hidden Brain, we trace the life of Riley Shepard. He was a hillbilly musician, a music promoter, a porn writer, a man with an all-consuming obsession and, perhaps, a genius.

Additional Resources:

Read an excerpt of Stacya Shepard Silverman's essay about her father and the moment she received the phone call alleging he was a crook.

You can also learn more about Riley Shepard at a Facebook page that Stacya created, and find a discography of his music here.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Laura Kwerel, Thomas Lu, and Camila Vargas Restrepo. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Renee Klahr, Patrick Boyd