Jerry Ryan (Heritage Boots)

"The most extravagant boot would be El Diablo"

Jerry Ryan (Heritage Boots)

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What brought you to US?  You are a long way from home …

I left Ireland around 17 in the 1970s and worked on The King’s Road in London selling western boots and traveled the US in the early to mid 80s looking for vintage western boots to sell at the flea market in Marin County, California, outside San Francisco. 

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What îs your first memory regarding boots?

I actually had a pair of boots as a kid and I have a photo of me in full western gear at 4 years old

What is the most challenging aspect of  being a bootmaker?

The most challenging aspect is getting enough boots made for the demand.  Our factory in Central Mexico is very, very small and can only craft 12-20 pair a day depending on complexity of the design.  More inlays – more work. 

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What is in your opinion the Golden Age of cowboy boots and why?

The Golden Age of Bootmaking, 1930s – 1960s has always been my perspective when it comes to western boots.  I don’t get the “ropers” of the 1980s and never will.  In fact, we have a sign on our front door, “No Ropers” which is kind of tongue in check, but not really.

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Could we say that cowbooy boots are a part American culture? Are there any iconic cowboy boots in American culture from your point of view?

I grew up watching old Hollywood westerns on television and iconic boots from that period would be Gene Autry’s Bluebird Boots, Roy Roger’s multiple famous Eagle Boots and, of course, the Tom Mix Tulip Boots.  We have made versions of all of these boots, like we do with a lot of vintage boots.

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Do you have some classic “Heritage boot” designs?

We have the vintage classic boots as I mentioned above along with random boots we see in the boot books by Tyler Beard.  Some of our boots are our own designs that have become classics with our customers.  They don’t ever want us to stop making certain designs.

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Please tell me more about your team…

Our team starts with me, or as my wife calls me, El Jefe.  Patti, my wife, is involved with boot design, marketing and bookkeeping.  She is the glue.  Elexia Lowe is our manager extroidinaire, and the head bootmaven.  The other mavens are Alie Twigger, who has been with us the longest.  Alie works only part-time because she has a famous husband musician that she travels with, Steve Twigger of Gaelic Storm.  There is absolutely nothing that these two do not know about boots.  Next are our other boot mavens, Janet Ha and Birdie Michaels – two very sweet and knoweldgable sales persons.  We spend off time together having BBQs and eating out.  It is a family of sorts and we value each and every one of them.

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What famous customers did you have over the years? What did they order?

Well, let’s see:  Robert Plant, John Doe, Padma Laksmi, Jennifer Tilley, Chelsea Clinton, John Malkovich, and a lot of famous people during SXSW that we do not recognize.  People tell us all the time, “OMG, so and so came in your store!” and we have no idea who they are talking about.  We never take photos with anyone famous or ask anything special from them.  I think they like to be treated anonymously.  The boots that most of our famous men like is the Jesse Dayton – simple design. 

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What other American bootmaker&shoemaker do you admire ?

Charlie Dunn (1898-1993) has always been a favorite.  He was dubbed, Michelangelo of cowboy boots and was made famous by the Jerry Jeff Walker song, “Charlie Dunn”.  When he passed, he passed on his bootmaking mastery to Lee Miller who still makes custom boots in Austin.  He is probably the best custom bootmaker today.

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What is the most extravagant boot that a client has ever ordered? What about the most difficult in terms of bootmaking process?

The most extravagant boot would be El Diablo, a boot I had made especially for me.  Eight rows of hand stitching and intricate inlays.  The factory was happy they would never have to make another pair.  They were also the most expensive we have ever made.

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How many pairs of boots do you own? 

I have, at last count, 16 pair.  I don’t always keep my boots so when I tire of them I put them on sale for someone to buy used.  It is usually a woman with a wide foot since I wear a 7 ½.

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The key elements of a good cowboy boot would be…

Elements of a good cowboy would start with the skin.  Lots of poor quality leather out there.  You see a lot of recent mass market boots (I won’t mention any names) that have the “distressed look”.  That is a good way to hide very poor quality leather.  The hand carved heel counter is another aspect that you will not find in mass marketed boots, along with lemonwood pegs – most boots have nails.  Our boots are fully pegged with at least 60 pegs.  The sole must be thick and the heel must be made with strips of leather – not wood or some kind of composite material.  Very important – boots must be leather lined.  Forget this soft foam like sneakers because it will wear out and get very funky.  Real boots are leather lined. Period.

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What is the particulaties of a excelent boot last? 

A good last is one that fits most people.  I cannot be too wide or too narrow.  The most important thing is that it can fit a wide variety of feet.  We have 4 different lasts and we recommend the right last for our customer’s feet.

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What is your favorite word?

I don’t think you can print my favorite word.  Starts with a “C” but that is because I come from Ireland where even the little old ladies use that word.

What is your least favorite word?

Least favorite word: Fashion.  I prefer “style” to “fashion”.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?

Historical reference.

What is your favorite curse word?

Again, the Cunt, but also Bollocks.

What sound or noise do you love?

Rain.

What sound or noise do you hate?

TV commercials.

 

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What profession would you not like to do?

Dentist – I have spent way too much time in the chair.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I don’t believe in Heaven.  When you die, you die.  I just want to know that I lived a life without being a dick.

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