By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

ST. FRANCIS -- While opening for the RSD Walk, Run and Rock for a Cure benefit in April, cowboy singer Phil Crawford took attendees on a stroll through his 75 years of strummin' and singin'.

Crawford was one of six bands appearing during the event organized in St. Francis to raise funds for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a rare pain syndrome.

He grew up in the sandhills of northwest Sherman County, Neb., and first performed on stage in 1938 at age 4.

When Crawford, now 79 years old, got his musical start on a small schoolhouse stage, high tech sound and stage equipment were still in the future,

"One of your neighbors played a guitar or a fiddle or a lady played the piano," he said of those early performances. "We always managed to meet at least once or twice a month in that little schoolhouse -- entertain the neighborhood.

"Probably the first song I ever sang on stage, I sang with a neighbor girl."

He jumped right into the first verse of that song, "You Are My Sunshine," and with his "old timey" cowboy twang and his "tired old fingers" strummed a lively beat.

Crawford took his first stab at writing poetry when he composed a piece about his grandfather, a horse whisperer.

"One day, I was sittin' there at a rodeo in Valentine, Neb., and I got to thinkin' and I got a notepad and starting writing a poem in memory of my grandad," Crawford said. "He never got on a horse that would buck.

"He would pat their forehead and scratch their ears and get on them right away."

Drifting from a yodeling tune to country western swing, Crawford recalled his days playing and singing west of the Mississippi.

In a biographical piece, Crawford sketched out his life philosophy.

"The biggest thing to being a successful performer is joy," he said. "That is key.

"You have to enjoy what you are doing and convey that to your audience. The bridge to them is a smile and a happy face. You will convey to them what they see as well as hear."