Skip to main content

Western & Cowboy Music


Western & Cowboy Music


Carl Sprague


When we hear the term "Western Music" the obvious question is where is the "Country"? It has been some time since the two genres have been attached to one another. I can't say exactly when the "Western" was dropped but it appears to have lost popularity in the 1970's with the development of other sub genre such as Outlaw Country and the "Bakersfield Sound" from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Of course there's a lot of different genres of music that were played and came from the Western part of the US but today I'm focused on what is attached to the term, Western (Country) music. It was quite different; in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma there were cultural influences not found in it's more eastern 'Country' cousin. Here are some songs typical of the genre; 'The Browns' "My Adobe Hacienda", "Abilene" by George Hamilton IV, and a song with origins from Canadian and American Voyageurs, Tennessee Ernie Ford with "Shenandoah".

And as to 'Cowboy' Music it is a sub genre we can trace back to at least the 1870's. Cattle drives in particular in the West and Midwest are the stuff of legends, many a movie and not to mention a novel or two as you Louis L'Amour fans can attest to. Well, some of these Cowboys were pretty good singers, storytellers and songwriters, so when they weren't forking a horse they'd entertain the other fellers with a tune or two, sometimes a serious song, others a bit more lighthearted. The easiest instrument to tote around was the harmonica and thanks to being massed produced in Germany in the early 1820's it was a widely available and inexpensive musical instrument.


The guitar was introduced by the Spaniards and was typically a more ranch or town based instrument that would become synonymous with Mariachi music, the Mexican Vaqueros and later the Singing American Cowboy. So Spanish Folk via Mexico became a big influence and is still evident today in Tejano and Tex-Mex sub genres.

There is much of old Celtic and English folk roots, some sea shanties and melodies which made their way into both Cowboy and Western Music so the fiddle also comes quite naturally into both these styles. Of course these developments predate recorded music so we then turn to later times to find the artists that represent the sub genres. While researching it was difficult to come across songs that were just listed as 'Western' music as they were also on the same list for 'Cowboy' music, so for many they are synonymous. Nevertheless I think there is a distinction if only as simple as if it's got the word "Cowboy" in it.

Carl Tyler "Doc" Sprague (May 10, 1895 – February 21, 1979) grew up somewhere near Manvel, Texas (south of Houston) and worked as a Cowboy, attended Texas A&M University and also served in WWI. Working in the cattle business he picked up many songs from the older Cowboys and took that knowledge to the Victor Talking Machine Company in New Jersey (later acquired by RCA to form RCA Victor) and recorded 10 songs. "The Cowboys Dream" was from 1926, although writing credits went to Sprague, it is quite possible this was one of the many songs he had heard from others and would be classified as "Traditional". He was called the "The Original Singing Cowboy" as it's believed he was the first person who had been an actual working Cowboy to make a record. After his schooling he was an Athletic Trainer at A&M and was singing part time on local radio and at various venus leading to a full time career in music. By this time 'Cowboy' tunes had already been around for a while such as "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" sung by Bob Roberts with Orchestra from 1912.

The inspiration for "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" was a young New York City boy playing dress-up and this trend of play continued for many years. As a result I wasn't the only young lad growing up in the 1940's through 60's to have the pair of Roy Rogers (Leonard Franklin Slye, November 5, 1911 – July 6, 1998) and his horse Trigger action figures. I had the hat, chaps, holster and yes a toy revolver as well. Following the dusty trail blazed by the likes of Tom Mix and the great Gene Autry (where Rogers was at one time just his sidekick), he would come to be known as the "King of the Cowboys". A great singer who would go into acting and become the biggest singing and acting "Western Star" of all time.  Here is a medley from Roy Rogers, his wife Dale Evans and 'The Sons of the Pioneers'.

Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Trigger

The true "singing cowboys" are a rare breed but the music lives on, mostly in the form of songs about Cowboys rather than ones written or sang by them. First, another song from the legendary Gene Autry who was known as "The Singing Cowboy" although the Texas born actor was formerly a Telegraph Operator before going into an amazing career of singing and acting. "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (1949). These are some of the classic Cowboy songs; Marty Robbins "Streets of Laredo",  Ken Curtis "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", The Townes Van Zandt written "Pancho and Lefty" by Emmylou Harris, and of course "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys" performed by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, written by Ed and Patsy Bruce. I blogged this one some time ago but it's worth another mention "I Wanna Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" (1935) by Patsy Montana accompanied by the Prairie Ramblers, written by Patsy Montana, (Ruby Rebecca Blevins, October 30, 1914-May 3, 1996).

By my own proclamation, Canada's Cowboy Poet Loriet or is that 'Lariat' (not to take away from Doris Daley), is the under appreciated Corb Lund. "(Gonna) Shine Up My Boots" is a song that's a great bridge between genres and a segue to the next topic, a spin-off of Western Music called 'Western Swing', sometimes called 'Texas Swing'. This style with origins in the 1920's really developed in the late 1930's into the 1940's. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys being one of the most prominent to display a more upbeat tempo adding drums and electric guitar, and it's also very danceable, "Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)". This music was hugely influential on sub genres across the 'Country Music' spectrum, not to mention Rockabilly and Rock and Roll. It's alive and well and also 'Asleep at the Wheel' with "Miles And Miles Of Texas" (1976). One of my favorite artists of any genre is Lyle Lovett,  "That's Right You´re Not From Texas", (written by Lyle Lovett, Willis Alan Ramsey and Alison Rogers) from his 1996 Grammy winning Album "The Road to Ensenada" which includes "Don't Touch My Hat" it's a great example of his brilliant tongue in cheek writing style.

Trivia. What Tejano music legend spent three years in Louisiana State Penitentiary for possession of marijuana? Baldemar Garza Huerta known as Freddy Fender. After his initial hit song in 1959, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" (written by Wayne Duncan and Freddy Fender) his career got sidelined with his stint in jail. Freddy would bounce back and have a string of #1 hits starting with "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" in 1974, followed by "Secret Love," "You'll Lose a Good Thing," which was a cover of Barbara Lynn (1966) and a remake of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights".

Spotify playlist Western and Cowboys Songs https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0MOdIwbCVlVExcxbDW1GWS

References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com,
 https://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/popular-songs-of-the-day/western-and-cowboy-songs/https://web.archive.org/web/20070927041654/http://www.westernmusic.org/HallOfFamefiles/carlsprague.htmlhttps://www.findagrave.com/memorial/72221289/carl-t_-spraguehttps://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-slang/5/#Fhttps://www.findagrave.com/memorial/72221289/carl-t_-spraguehttps://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/campfire-stories/vaqueros


If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of any one's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!

























Comments

Popular posts from this blog

One Hit Wonders (not!)

One Hit Wonders (not!)

Yesterday (Sept. 26) was the 50th Anniversary of Abbey Road, the Beatles last recording session together and the second last album before Let it Be was issued May 8, 1970. And also Happy belated One Hit Wonder Day! (Sept. 25th) so I thought it would make a good blog topic.


The simplest definition I found is from music journalist Wayne Jancik "an act that has won a position on a national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once." This from the 'The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders' (1998). So we aren't talking one #1 hit. It's not a term I like as it implies (and some truth to that) these artists have had just a brief moment in the spotlight, perhaps undeservedly so and then fallen off the music map. I know other and deeper definitions are a bit more broad and go beyond the absolute single hit idea. They also consider many artists that have still maintained a quality career and just not reproduced another 'top 40 hit' song and or ma…

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country


What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I'm not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre.

It's murky waters that I'm swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music "establishment" has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases "shunned" for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same 'establishment'. So there is some hypocrisy at play in my op…

Sweet Soul Music

Sweet Soul Music

Arthur Conley co-wrote this song with Otis Redding and it's a tribute to some of the early greats of Soul Music. The song's melody (and words for that matter) borrowed heavily from the Sam Cooke song "Yeah Man" and a subsequent lawsuit brought by A.W. Alexander who managed Cooke's songs after his untimely death added his name to the song credits. The resulting song however was a huge hit for Conley and it reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B Chart in 1967 and #7 in the UK where Soul Music was gaining popularity particularly amongst a subset of British youth. The lyrics reference the co-writer Otis Redding, James Brown and songs by The Miracles, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, some of the key figures in early Soul Music. "Sweet Soul Music" covered 30 times, The Jam (1977).

Soul music is a fusion of R&B, Gospel and Jazz. Known generally for it's more upbeat tempo it's fun to listen to and great for …

Rock artists sing the Blues

Rock artists sing the Blues

I have talked about this frequently throughout my posts but more particularly in the series on the Delta Blues and the History of R&R parts 1-4. Truth be told, most of the greatests 'Rock' artists owe much of their inspiration to the Blues. Rock bands and solo artists have cut many sides early and throughout their careers of blues songs. Thanks to artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who were obviously very well known and successful, their covers of some of the great blues songs served as a conduit and exposed them to artists and listeners alike. Here are some 'Blues' that inspired Rock artists, a few of these songs are more well known than others.


Confessin' the Blues by The Rolling Stones was recorded  June 11, 1964 and released on a 7" record of five songs on August 14. Written by Walter Brown (vocals) and Jay McShann (piano and bandleader) originally released in June of 1941. Covered about 35 times including Chuck Berr…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus "to infinity and beyond!" I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the final cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.




76. "Flip Flop and Fly" is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic "Shake Rattle and Roll" written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1955). The first time I heard this was at a club in my hometown I'll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band, later known as just 'Downchild'. Still the best cover for me although I've heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standa…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

There has been a very positive response to the first two 'Greatest' posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition in the near future and that will be out of my system. But what if I do lists by genre, just thinking out loud, sorry but I will keep blogging on various topics as long as people continue to click.

51. "I Put a Spell on You" written and originally recorded by Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can't get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it's ear to give it an entirely different sound.


52. "Strange Fruit" was a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holiday from 1939. A song written as a poem by another b…

Music Myths and other Silly Things

Music Myths and other Silly Things

Who doesn't like a good story? There are many great ones and some not so much about music. I try and put a little story into my blogs and during the course of my research I have run across some that are quite curious. Some of these myths about songs and artists have innocent enough beginnings and have been perpetuated or at least not denied by the artists themselves, others come from malcontents and the misinformed.



Here is one that falls in the category of a silly thing; Bob Dylan and the 'Stealers Wheel' song "Stuck in the Middle with You", released in April, 1973.

1. Bob Dylan did not write this nor did he sing this song, nor is this song about Bob Dylan.

2. If you do a search for 'Dylan and Stuck in the Middle" you will get results like the following:
Home » Artists » Bob Dylan » Stuck In The Middle With YouBob Dylan - "Stuck In The Middle With You" lyricsBob Dylan: CD's Sheet Music Tablature, Stuck in…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #1-25

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs

Nothing quite grabs the attention more than a list of the greatest this or that, so at 85 posts about cover songs I thought it about time to get to it. As I advised with my other 'Greatest' posts we all have our favorites so anytime there is a list, something or someone 'great' gets left off. And the debate ensues, why is this and that at #11 not #4 and vise versa. My list therefore, shall be no different for it is not scientific but subjective and it is biased by my own tastes and exposure to music. Having said that it's hard for me to have missed many of the truly great cover songs of all time, indeed I think I've talked about quite a few:


"Respect" from the writer and original recording Otis Redding and a cover she made her own, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. More about the song and Aretha in these posts. Before I get to some cover's I've not mentioned, here are more songs from my previous issues that are …

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt


Just recently I watched "Linda Ronstadt, The Sound of My Voice" on CNN and I don't mind saying I was moved to tears more than once. Narrated by Linda herself and including rare footage and photo's in addition to some great interviews, it paints a wonderful picture of a remarkable career. If you get the chance you really should watch it, but for now a mini bio and then to some of her music from that amazing voice.

Linda was born on July 15, 1946 and grew up on a ranch in Tucson Arizona in a prosperous family. Music was a very important part of daily life so her exposure and interest came very naturally. She began her career in the mid sixties joining the growing country/folk rock scene. Ronstadt met Bobby Kimmel at the University of Arizona and later met Kenny Edwards and they formed the band the 'Stone Poneys'. She would release some solo material starting in 1969 and then tour with Jackson Brown, Neil Young and the Doors. She began having hug…

Radiohead

Radiohead



When talking about the band I have to confess I'm out of my depth so I will tread lightly. We should however get right to their beginnings and major influence, that being the 'Talking Heads' and their namesake song "Radio Head". The band had been called 'On a Friday' but their record label requested they change it before signing a contract (with EMI records) in 1991.
Radiohead are one of the most successful and influential Rock bands since their debut album "Pablo Honey' (Jerky Boys) in February of 1993. All their songs are credited to the entire band Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway and Thom Yorke. And there's the 'sixth member' producer Nigel Godrich who's done all their albums since 1994. Their song "Creep" charted top 40 across the world and it's depressing tone eventually wore the band down to the point they stopped playing it live for a long period of time. The songs melo…