Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cowboy Music

Cowboy/Western/Country ~ It's All Music to Me!

I come from a "musically inclined" family and some of my earliest memories are of learning songs together on our family road trips across the country. We would sing to pass the time and would often change the lyrics to amuse ourselves. Although likely unbelievable to today's travelers - our family car did not have a radio. My father was all about being thrifty and practical and promoting togetherness. The songs I particularly liked were the ones that told a story. Cannon

No wonder so many were Cowboy Songs!

There is a real diversity in all the music that has been lumped under the name of Country Music today Which can be a bit confusing. "Country music" originated in the southeastern United States. With the advent of the recording industry and Hollywood, all kinds of music was lumped under the umbrella of "Country Music." Appalachian hillbilly, southern country, Texas Tejano, not to mention the traditional Cowboy and Western songs. After a decline of interest in the 1960s due to Rock and Roll, country music made a comeback in the form of "Outlaw Country." (However, I submit that for those of us who love the country life, I don't think it ever went out of style!)

According to Otto Gray, authentic Western music had three rhythms, "all coming from the gaits of the cow-pony -- walk, trot, and lope." []

Hal Cannon explains that traditional cowboy songs tell about ranching and the life of a cowboy. He states that today there is a growing traditionalism in western music.

Cowboy Songs --I'm talking real cowboy poetry set to music, the ballads of yesteryear--originated with the men and women who settled the west. They brought the music from their "mother-land," and so their music was directly related to the old English, Scottish, and Irish folk ballads. Some "American" songs are actually tunes from long ago with new lyrics. (Copyrighting music didn't start until 1837.)
One such song was The Streets of Laredo: The Cowboy's Lament. This tune started out way back in the 1600s as the Bard of Armagh ~ and Irish drover ballad. Then it became A Handful of Laurel. In 1790, immigrants brought it to America switching out the words and naming it The Unfortunate Rake. The early 1800s saw it reworded and named as St. James Infirmary Blues. In 1879, Frances Henry Maynard copyrighted the song as we know it today.

In 1848, Stephen Foster's Oh Susanna! became the song that epitomized the westward movement. The men and women of the 1849 gold rush embraced it as their song.

I've heard a few traditional cowboy songs, and owe my thanks to the music program in my grade school. We'd sing the songs as we also learned the history of our country. (We also learned a few traditional folk dances but that is another post :-)

Here are a few traditional cowboy songs from the 1800s  

How many have you heard?

"The Bravest Cowboy"
"The Brazos"
"The Cowboy and the Lady"
"Golden Slippers"
"Longside of the Sante Fe Trail"
"Mustang Grey"
"Old Paint Waltz"
"The Streets of Laredo"
"The Old Chisolm Trail"
"Red River Valley" (1896)
"Red Whiskey"
"Whoopee-ti-yi-o Git Along Little Dogies" (1880)
"Home on the Range" (1873)
"Clementine" (1884)

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Kathryn's newest release, His Springtime Bride, is a sweet clean western historical novella in the Western Spring Weddings Anthology from Harlequin. 

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  1. What a great gift you received. Music is and will always be something we can all relate to. Cowboy Music has roots that dig into your soul. Thanks for a great post. Doris/Angela

    1. Thanks Doris! Growing up a "city girl" my first introduction to "country music" was John Denver's songs, but I don't know that he would be considered "country." I just know that after hearing him I began looking for more songs that were like his and discovered country.

  2. Such a fun post, Kathryn! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Shanna! This post came into being when I was researching for my last book and had my hero sitting in the saloon. I had to find which songs the piano man would have been playing...and think I ended up with Oh Susanna!

  3. Ken Maynard Sang it 1929 The Wagon Master