When Brett Marquardt got an invitation to Willie Nelson’s house in 2014, the Colorado resident immediately knew which shoes to wear: his cowboy boots with the legendary country artist’s face stitched into them. Marquardt even called Mickey Mussett, the Denver craftsman who had made the footwear, to inform him of his plan. “You should ask him to sign them,” Mussett said. But when the time came, Nelson demurred. “No way,” Nelson said. “Those are way too pretty to put my signature on.”

Five years later, Mussett grins as he recounts that tale. He started Ghost Rider Boots in 1999 as little more than a novice in the fading art of custom boot making. Today, after spending countless hours in the garage of his Hale neighborhood home cutting leather and threading the pieces together, Mussett’s designs are coveted by customers who live as far away as Australia and Europe. In 2015, he even fashioned a pair depicting mountains, skis, a banjo, and the Colorado flag for then Governor John Hickenlooper. The current Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate wore the boots during his wedding and a State of the State address. “Mickey treats all of his customers like kings,” Hickenlooper says, “which is appropriate, because all the boots he creates are fit for a king.”

Despite his current gig, Mussett’s mama didn’t raise him to be a cowboy. In fact, the Denver native spent the first 25 years of his professional career in advertising. (You can thank him for Pizza Hut’s personal pan pizza.) By his mid-50s, however, Mussett found himself out of the industry and working as a temp. That’s when a wayward internet search led him to David Hutchings, an Arvada boot maker who also teaches students looking to learn the trade. Mussett was enamored with Hutchings’ elaborate creations, so—although his bank account was rapidly dwindling—he decided to study with Hutchings for six months. He knew his risk might pay off when Hutchings called him the best pupil he’d ever had.

Hoping to master the craft, Mussett also met with other custom boot makers around the country to perfect the 80- to 100-step process. (He estimates there are currently 250 such craftsmen in America, including fewer than 10 in Colorado.) After starting Ghost Rider, Mussett attracted his first customers through word of mouth. The business took off, though, after he launched a website. The platform set him apart from older, technologically averse artisans and has allowed him to showcase the intricacies of his designs, from monograms to overlays of butterflies, oil derricks, and team logos.

Over two decades, Mussett has crafted more than 150 pairs of cowboy couture, some of which you’ll likely see on the feet of National Western Stock Show (January 11 to 26) attendees. Charging about $3,000 for each set, the 72-year-old is pleased he’s cobbled together a second career. But he’s prouder of finding a new purpose. “It’s special,” he says, “knowing you’ve created something people can’t get many other places.”

This article was originally published in 5280 January 2020.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of 5280.com and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.