Yodeler Kerry Christensen is big in South Korea, he was surprised to learn on a recent trip.
The art of tunefully breaking one’s voice has become a fad in some Asian nations. There are now more than 100 yodeling clubs in Seoul alone. Christensen, one of America’s few professional yodelers, was mobbed like a Hollywood celebrity. One yodeling club — at least 1,000 members strong — performed for him selections from his popular instructional album.
“Amazingly, a lot of them did a really great job,” he said.
Kerry Christensen, master yodeler, will play a stand in Douglas County next month. Still laid up seven weeks after breaking his upper arm slipping on ice outside his Utah home, Christensen sounded upbeat when reached by phone this week.
“It’s just a very happy medium,” he said of his art and life’s work. “People tell me, ‘I like your stuff because it makes me happy.’”
Christensen is soft-spoken but not lacking in confidence in his unique skills.
“Most people specialize in one style. I probably know 500 to 600 styles, and 300 of them I came up with myself,” he said.
Having a wide variety — from Swiss styles to Western to Cajun to African, to his own “chicken yodel” — helps keep an audience tuned in, he said.
“I try to give them a little bit of everything.”
Christensen, 49, grew up on a potato farm in Grace, Idaho. He learned to sing opera from his mother, and discovered yodeling as an adolescent living in Austria. His oft-told origin story has him warbling all day long from the seat of his tractor, plowing up and down the potato fields while his relatives held hands to their ears.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in financial planning (with a minor in marketing), he yodeled for Snowbird Resort in Utah before landing a dream yodeling gig in 1984. He was cast in the band at the German Pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World, performing for thousands of visitors a day. If the Disney corporation had a yodeler in the late 1980s, he was it.
Christensen left Epcot in 1990 to make more money on the road. The association with the Disney name has proven to be a boon, he said. “It really opened the door.”
As a freelancer, he’s on the road 200 nights a year, regularly performing on cruise ships, in RV parks, at concert halls and in national ad campaigns. His instructional album, “U2 Can Yodel,” has been translated into multiple languages, notably German and Korean. Summer festivals are a big part of his annual calendar. So is the three-month Oktoberfest season, when he appears in about 20 different Bavarian-themed fairs around the world. His website includes a section where fans can order personalized birthday greetings.
He was in Disney’s 2004 animated film “Home on the Range” as the yodeling cattle-rustler Alameda Slim (but only when Slim lulled cows into slumber; actor Randy Quaid provided the dialogue).
Christensen has tried using agents and managers, but none has been able to locate the right venues as effectively as he can. So he’s stuck to doing it himself, though in a few parts of the country there are fans like Douglas County’s Bill and Marilyn West, who promote him and shepherd him through town.
The Wests put down $3,000 of their own money to get him here and have tried to fit in as many shows as possible. He’s set to perform for the guitar class at Roseburg High School, at fundraisers for the Myrtle Creek Grange and the Myrtle Creek Fire Department, at Pyrenees Vineyard and Cellars in Myrtle Creek and once for veterans and their families at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Christensen lives in Provo, Utah. He and his wife, Kathie, have four children and four grandchildren. Daughter Emilie yodeled with her dad in a recent Disney short as Minnie and Mickey Mouse, respectively.
Christensen said it’s surprising to many outsiders how many of the world’s cultures have yodeling variants of their own. He thinks its effect on the brain might have something to do with that.
Just try to be angry next time you yodel.
You can’t do it, he said.
“I’m kind of the only person who does what I do.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.