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Red Bluff Rodeo Week, Tehama County Legends, Burning Questions

John Growney and Red Rock.

Yippie-yi-yo-kayah it’s Rodeo Week in Red Bluff. Whether you love it or leave town the third weekend in April every year, there’s no denying the positive effect on the Tehama County economy. So buck up, buttercup. You don’t have to participate. Just be grateful for yet another reason people from elsewhere visit us and spend their hard-earned money.

Tourism is a fantastic revenue generator. Tourists spend money but don’t use the services the resulting tax dollars pay for. Schools, fire, police – well ok, they use police. Anyone, including Mark Twain, who says “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting” has never stood outside the Palomino Room on Rodeo Saturday night. It could be a reality show – like The Purge but with big hats and high-heeled girlie boots.

In Tehama County and all over the western states, rodeo and John Growney are synonymous. The affable stock contractor and 1996 CA state assembly candidate – he lost because of a pesky D next to his name – gained fame in the world of rodeo as the owner of Red Rock the bull.

It’s a fairy tale story and you may know it already. Red Rock’s former owner, Mert Hunking, was dying of cancer and knew John and his partner Don Kish would take good care of his beloved bull. They “adopted” Red Rock for $10,000 and Red Rock thanked them by bucking off every single rider in his professional career. 309 of them, to be exact. Red Rock was ridden by the late Lane Frost to the official time – and movie title – of 8 Seconds, but that was after he had retired. The bull, that is.

Lane Frost riding Red Rock

Growney came up with an idea for a rematch in 1987 after Frost and Red Rock were named PRCA Bull Rider of the Year and Bull of the Year respectively, although Red Rock had thrown twice Frost in their official PRCA encounters. Challenge of the Champions became a series of 7 rides and Frost was successful in 4 of those.

8 Seconds movie poster

There’s another story about John Growney you may not know, however, that didn’t merit a film starring Luke Perry.

However, it made the front page of Red Bluff Daily News in 1997 and a correlating Merry Standish Comedy bit in a couple of shows at the State Theatre.

I couldn’t find the original article so some details are sketchy in my memory, but a steer had escaped and was running around downtown Red Bluff. It visited the River Park and who wouldn’t? It was 1997 and was not a campground for homeless folks yet. All the grass you can eat plus fresh water. I seem to recall the steer damaging a police car and the officers were at a loss of what to do.

Well, duh – call a cowboy! John Growney showed up and roped the steer on horseback in the park. Nobody was hurt and yes, you can file that under Only In Red Bluff. We had shows already booked and the comedy gods were clearly smiling upon us with that gift.

At that time, the State Theatre was still divided into three cinemas and the narrow stage was up against the wall separating the loge from the two lower rooms. This was before Red Bluff rich guys Ben Sale and Ron Clark bought the building and started its long road to becoming one of the top venues in Northern California.

Growney had lost his assembly race the year before, but his down-to-earth campaign had made him even more famous and top of mind locally. There was even a group of supporters called Republicans for Growney, which is something you don’t see every day – like Jews for Jesus. We should be so lucky as to have him represent us in Sacramento, but I digress.

Photo of John Growney by David L. Thomas

In our comedy bit, the steer (played hilariously by Brandon Davison) gets loose in the loge section and runs through the delighted audience. I play a Red Bluff police officer who radios the station for backup in catching the bull. I describe the havoc the steer is wreaking, then utter the line that got me what was arguably my biggest laugh in over 30 years of doing comedy. “He even knocked Mace MacIntosh (an unpopular Red Bluff cop) off his high horse.” I go on to tell dispatch not to send more cops – this was a job for a cowboy. “A REAL cowboy – not those pussies at the Palomino Room. Send me John Growney, dammit!”

Mr. Standish as Growney enters on his horse Sticky and proceeds to glad hand the audience while searching for the steer. A chase ensues to silent movie piano music played by beer god Roland Allen, and Standish finally corners Davison on stage, where he subdues and hog ties the mighty beast.

How much more fun would this be with visuals? Tons! Luckily, our enormous egos forced us to video every show and you can watch this bit on .

The real John Growney returned to the State this week for a screening of 8 Seconds and took questions from the audience. Somehow my buddy and fellow Red Bluff Daily News scribe Bill Cornelius managed to wedge himself into the act by reading the questions to John. I was unable to attend, but was wondering if Bill made it through the entire program without mentioning his “friendship” with Tom Hanks. It’s like he has Tom Hanks Tourette’s Syndrome. (Just kidding, Bill – you’re the best!)

Have fun at the rodeo if you go, or doing whatever else you choose on this gorgeous weekend. If you’re one of the many folks who will be burning brush, please note that last year’s burn permits are only good until the end of the month. You will need a new one in May and you can’t just stroll into the CalFire office to get one. They are only available online now – but they’re still free and how many things can you say that about? Visit burnpermit.fire.ca.gov – it’s easy peasy and there’s great safety info, too.

Since the non-stop precipitation has mostly subsided for now, we have been spending more time outdoors – just like you, I bet. The Super Bloom is in full swing and it’s hard to imagine the hills and meadows bursting with color today will be dry as an old dog turd in a few short months. Get out there and enjoy it while you can.

Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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