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"The Legend" by Steve Cook
The ballad that started it all and 
became the inspiration for the novel.

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by Frank Holes Jr.

Exclusive Interview with Steve Cook, 
author and singer of "The Legend"
The song that started it all...

 

Cherry Fest 2009

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Michigan's Dogman:  
Myth or reality?

QUESTION 1.Can you describe how you felt when folks around northern Michigan began calling into the station after the Legend was first played?

At first, we thought people were playing the April Fools joke back on us. But none of the reports were amusing or over the top, and the callers seemed sincere.  It really wasn't until the Luther incident that I began to feel like "maybe there is something to this."


QUESTION 2.What is the most compelling piece of potential evidence you've encountered?  What made it so interesting?

I think the one that sent the deepest shiver down my spine was the report from Geels, Michigan, that included the foam pawprint casts. The story alone has a chilling aspect to it; a hunter of 30 years feels like he is being tracked into the woods in the early morning darkness. He hears footsteps behind and to his right. Footsteps that stop everytime he does. This is a man who has never felt fear while alone in the wilderness, who suddenly turns around and runs back to his car. He returned later and found the tracks, and made casts of them with expanding foam insulation. When you see these casts, clearly dog paw prints - with four toes, pads, and protruding round claws - and then realize the size of animal it must have taken to make them, it's enough to make you shudder.


QUESTION 3.You are given credit for naming the creature the 'dogman'. How did you come up with that name and how is it fitting for the depictions that witnesses give?

At the time I was writing the song, each verse was based  on sightings of other strange creatures from around the country. The dogman is really no more than an amalgam of all those creatures. I didn't want him to be a bigfoot, or even a werewolf. I wanted him to be unique. The descriptions that witnesses give however, is precisely the creature I saw in my head while writing the song. Brian Rosinski's portrait, also purely from his imagination, is strikingly similar to what many people have seen.


QUESTION 4.What is the most unusual area in Michigan that you've come across a story or encounter?

I think the strangest place for an encounter would have to be the sighting received this year from Alpena. It's an area that is thickly wooded, but is actually located in town. The river does a wide bend there, with a cemetery on one side and a neighborhood on the other. Not exactly the kind of place you'd expect a seven foot dogman to be wandering around, but he was actually seen there twice over a 25 year period.



QUESTION 5.Where do you find your inspiration for the Hauntings stories played on Halloween?

"The Haunting Of Northwest Michigan" is actually even older than "The Legend." I started doing that show in 1985 when I worked at WCCW. Originally the stories were adaptations of real ghost stories from the region, but it didn't take long to run out of those. We still get story ideas contributed from listeners each year, but recently it's about 75% a creative writing exercise for me. That's actually been a benefit, because the imagination isn't limited by facts. I have a flexibility to create whatever I want, which makes for much better campfire story fare.


QUESTION 6.Do you ever get the 'creeps' or 'shivers' when traveling through the woods or going outside at night?  Has the growth of the legend intrigued or enriched your life more?

No creeps or shivers - well, no more than anyone else gets. My wife gets spooked if she walks the dogs toward dusk sometimes, and I must admit a well placed twig snap might make me jump, but overall, I'm pretty skeptical of crypto-creatures and monsters. If there's one thing "The Legend" has taught me, it's how folklore begins. People have experiences they cannot explain, and when a central theme comes along that offers a possible explanation they tend to gravitate toward it like moths to a flame.

It's gratifying to me that my simple song has touched and entertained so many people for so long. We literally believed the song would run for a day on the radio and never be heard from again. Almost 25 years later, I have people come up to me and tell me stories of hearing the song as children, and now they have children who now love it just as much. My friend Jack O'Malley once said that "The Legend" is forever woven into the local culture and folklore. It will be here long after we are gone.

Of course, nothing gives me more joy than seeing the real effect the song has when we donate the profits to local animal rescue groups and other charities. The recent resurgence of the song's popularity has allowed us to give nearly 24 thousand dollars to help homeless, abused, and neglected animals in just the last three years. Of course I can think of a lot of fun things I could have done with that money, but none of them would make my heart feel this good.

QUESTION 7.What background in legends and folklore do you have that's led to the creation of the Dogman song?

Nothing formal. I've just always loved ghost stories and unexplained mysteries. My parents were wonderful storytellers, and would rivet us with tales of their own ghostly experiences. As a kid I read a lot of books on haunted houses, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, ufo's, etc. I recall getting a copy of "Chariots of the Gods" from the library and being so intrigued I read it three times in a row (paid a hefty late fee for that one!).  In the 70's, I watched two ABC Movies of the Week called "The Night Stalker" and "The Night Strangler," which would later be a big influence in the structure of "The Legend." In my adult years as I lived in various places, I would study the local folklore and collect stories from individuals. A lot of what you hear in my music and storytelling is built on that foundation.

I've never been a fan of the modern style of horror, so full of graphic blood and gore. Stephen King said in "Danse Macabre" that the scariest monsters are not the ones that screech and bare their fangs in front of you. The scariest are the monsters under the bed, in the closet, or panting on the other side of the door. That's the key that makes the dogman so appealing. There is no blood, no violent death, he's just plain scary.

QUESTION 8. What was the most interesting Dogman story you've heard?

Wow, big question. Most interesting to me is the 1987 Luther story. Not because of the compelling evidence, because little was found, and not because this was an actual witnessed encounter, because it happened when no one was around. What makes this story so fascinating is that two experienced officers were impressed enough by the damage and the size of the dog prints to call it in to the radio station. Normally police and DNR officers are very pragmatic. They look for the most reasonable conclusion and stay there. In Luther, the evidence defied reason. While one of the officers who responded thinks now that it was just a neighbor's dog that did the damage, Deputy Jeff Chamberlain is not convinced. He found claw and teeth marks on a wooden window frame, and slobber marks on the window, over 7 feet off the ground. To this day, he can't explain what kind of creature was there, or why.


QUESTION 9. What was your inspiration for the Sigma story?

Ever been to Sigma? It's kind of a spooky place to begin with. It shows up on Michigan maps as though it's a town, but when you get there, it's nothing but an intersection in the middle of some farm land and scrub forest. There once were a few buildings that made up the village, but today, it's a ghost town.

In 1989, I wanted to write a sequel to "The Legend," so I decided to do a song in the same style, but make it about the disappearance of a whole community following a summer of Dogman terror. Sigma was the natural choice for a setting, because people could actually drive there and see that no one remained!

The Sigma story never made the splash that "The Legend" did, and it only played on the air a couple of months before being retired. We included it in both the 20th Anniversary Collectors CD, and did an updated version for our current CD/DVD set "The Legend Legacy Edition" .

QUESTION 10. How has your life changed because of the Dogman song?

Well, I suppose it brought me my 15 minutes of fame. It's unlikely that I would have ended up on Fox News or The History Channel because of some creative radio commercial that I produced.  Mostly though, it's given me the chance to meet so many great people who have enjoyed the song, and use the money the song generates to help out homeless animals.

QUESTION 11. What is it like to be known as the "father of the Dogman"?

A little intimidating, but also kind of cool. Some people credit me for creating this beast, but others will say I'm just one cog in a historic wheel that's been turning for some time. What I enjoy most is the belief that this legend will long outlive me. I think it will be kind of fun, when I'm like 80 or so, to have some cub reporter turn up wanting to interview me about this song.

QUESTION 12. What is the farthest away (you know of) that "The Legend" has been played on the radio?

The most distant station I know of is Armed Forces Radio in Germany. I've heard rumors it may have played in Japan as well, but haven't been able to confirm that.

QUESTION 13. Who was the first to call the station in 1987 and report a Dogman encounter?

I can't recall who was first, because we didn't take the early calls very seriously. The one that stands out is Robert Fortney, because he was the first caller to report a direct face to face encounter. You can read his account here:
http://michigan-dogman.com/01_encParis.html

QUESTION 14. When was the most recent Dogman encounter in Michigan?

We get at least one report a month, sometimes several. I haven't published many lately because there just hasn't been time to follow up on them. I will say the latest I've heard of occurred near Gaylord last fall.

QUESTION 15. Can you share anything about your interview with Monster Quest?

There were two interviews done, both last fall. They brought in all kinds of cameras and lights to shoot the video. These guys spend hours setting up the proper lighting schemes for scenes that may last no more than a few seconds. It gave me a whole new respect for the artistry that goes into creating a show at this level.

The Monster Quest people were primarily interested in the Gable Film story, and we covered that pretty thoroughly. They also wanted to know about the history of the song, some of the encounters posted on the website, and the charitable aspect of the project. We also provided them with contact information of a few witnesses who gave us permission to release it.

QUESTION 16. Do you have any idea what might be featured on the upcoming Monster Quest special?

I know some things, but not all. White Wolf Productions, the producers of Monster Quest, is under contract with the History Channel to not reveal too much about any particular episode in advance, and they ask that the participants not disclose any direct knowledge of findings or plot lines the show may contain. As someone who produces audio and video material for a living, I understand and respect their position.

 

 

 

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