The Black Lightning Wild West Show: Traditional bullwhip artists at their “Best”

Not far off from a personal request from the NBA star LaBrone James to entertain his children, Richard and Donna Best asked me to spend a little time with them freshening up their media presence online.  As a traditional couple deeply committed to western arts for several generations now they needed some updated footage to continue offering their Wild West show to audience everywhere continuing a tradition they advanced for more than 3500 live performances.  Another mutual friend of ours David Crain has become a prized bull whip maker for Richard’s shows so we all met up at Gery Deer’s studio to film some of Richard and Donna’s act for a new video featuring some of their highlights.

The show is called the Black Lightning Wild West Show and it is a throwback to the old vaudeville performances that were so popular a hundred years ago, to a period in America where value still ruled.  So I didn’t have to think twice to help them.  Their goals are my goals, and they do a lot of good traveling The United States advancing western arts keeping that tradition alive.

Richard and his wife are regulars at the Annie Oakley Western Showcase that I attend every year and unfortunately we are all so busy, especially David, Gery, and myself that we seldom can align our schedules to meet together outside of Annie Oakley.  David Crain from Heartbeat Artistry has emerged as a top whip maker in the field of nylon whips. Being a normally kangaroo hide whip guy who nearly exclusively uses Terry Jacka whips out of Australia, Crain has won me over.  His whips are very fast, and balanced.  He was the same whip maker who built my grandson his first three bullwhips which were given to him when he was born, and can be seen practicing with below at age 1 and a half.

Nylon whips are really optimal for indoor performances which Richard Best has a great deal of experience with, so he and David Crain have become quite well acquainted with each other.  It was good to get together with them for a day of whip cracking, eating pizza and catching up on stories that have occurred for the last several of months.  Of their most unusual adventures since we all last spoke at the 2013 Annie Oakley festival was the Labrone James party for his children where Richard and Donna were brought in along with live circus animals particularly a giant elephant to personally perform for James and his entourage.

One of the coolest new tricks done by Richard and Donna was one where his wife held a dime in her fingertips that Richard cut out fearlessly.  That trick was also seen in the promotional video put together above. They were very good at it, and before filming routinely littered the floor of the studio with dimes knocked from his wife’s fingers.  A dime is a pretty small target.

There is a lot wrong with the world, but the Black Lightning Wild West Show is not one of them.  Just knowing they are out there doing the good work of preserving western arts makes me very happy.  It was a pleasure to assemble some of their footage for marketing purposes demanded by our modern times.  Business cards and word of mouth referrals are no longer sufficient in our high-tech world, so western arts must adapt accordingly.  The tradition is still very low tech, but the method of letting employers like Labrone James know about them must compete directly with everything else out there.  So I was happy to help.

We ended the day with the typical reserve.  I can’t think of a single time that we’ve all gathered where I didn’t leave feeling like I under-anticipated the level of fun that we’d all have.  This time was no different.  We found ourselves stalling for time once I had gathered up all the shots I needed.  We extended the day unnecessarily for another hour, but eventually it did come to a close.  I spent the rest of my evening playing X-Wing with my brother at my niece’s birthday party, David Crain and his family went back to his whip making shop in a Middletown backyard, and Gery went back to being an independent television producer in the Dayton area where he just recently completed a segment with Phil Donahue.  The sun set on the day, but it rose just a bit higher for the art of the Wild West.  And in that field, the Black Lightning Wild West Show is carrying proudly a tradition in America that is nearly as old as the nation, and important to its very soul.

Rich Hoffman


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