Sometimes Cowgirls Get a Notion To Sing

Montana Woman on Horseback, 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cowgirl Poets

Women definitely held a major role, not only in the Old West, but also today, as ranching country faces the challenges of a new and changing world. Traditionally, women have been the more active participant in literary activities. Yet, in the world of Cowboy poets and self expression, women are definitely in the minority. Nonetheless, the woman of the open range can still spin a good yarn that will keep the audience tuned in and wanting for more.

A Cowgirl at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Men tend to dominate the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, but does not stop the women from stepping up to the microphone.

Honoring a Canadian Songwriter

Ian Tyson is a well-respected Canadian songwriter, who has received special honors and tributes at the National Cowboy Poetry gatherings. One of his most famous songs, which is written from a female point of view, is featured here by Suzy Bogguss.

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A Real and Genuine West Texas Ghost Story

This WPA was done by Tom Lea and can be found at the Odessa, Texas post office

Stampede Mesa

Somewhere in West Texas, there is a real place called Stampede Mesa. It is situated east of Lubbock,  along the Blanco River on a private ranch. There is a ghost story attached to this high spot of grass that many researchers believe is the origin for the song, Ghost Riders in the Sky. Furthermore, it is completely, plausible that the lively story might have traveled by word-of-mouth from West Texas to Arizona, where the author was born and raised.

Stan Jones would have been an obscure C & W songwriter except for one massive hit, Ghost Riders in the Sky.

Ghost Riders in the Sky

The song was originally written in 1948 by a relatively unknown songwriter of the name, Stan Jones. At the time, Stan was a Death Valley National Park ranger, who wrote songs on the side. During his lifetime, he recorded over 100 songs with the Ghost Rider tune, being by far the most popular. Jones, who grew up on an Arizona ranch, claims to have heard the story while he was kid.

Burl Ives was the first major recording artist to pick up on the number. He did so in 1949, after being sent the song by Eden Ahbez, an iconic California folksinging character, who was best known for living under the grandiose Hollywood sign, before being discovered by Nat King Cole in 1947. Since its initial release, Ghost Riders has been performed by over 50 musicians. Styles vary from full out, loud rockin’ country as done by the Outlaws to a simple folksinger’s tale as Don Edwards does in the following video.

A Real Texas Ghost Story

The story of Stampede takes place back in the 19th century during the heyday of the cattle drives. According to legend, a band of cowboys were driving 1500 head of cattle from South Texas to Kansas. While traveling along the Blanco River in West Texas, the group approached a flat-topped mesa that overlooked the river.

Since there was good grazing on top, they drove their heard up on the small plateau, being careful not to get too close to the large cliff that overlooked the river. Much to their surprise they encountered an old man, who was camped out with his own small herd of about 50 steers. Without much discussion, the drovers from the South decided to share the mesa with the old man.

Unfortunately, this decision did not sit well with the old man, for sometime in the middle of the night, he arose and deliberately started a stampede that killed 1200 head of cattle and two cowboys. Then, he hightailed it away from the mesa, but the cowboys tracked him down and brought him back to camp.

For his callous crimes, the old man was blindfolded, placed on a horse and driven off the cliff. From that day on, the hallowed place has been known as Stampede Mesa. Not surprisingly, the land is believed to be haunted with strange sounds and apparitions of cattle stampeding being reported by those who travel along the Blanco River.

Cowboy Poetry Week: “I Ride an Old Paint”

An American Paint Horse at a horse show in the Czech Republic, from Wikipedia, photo by Karakal

The Death of the Old West

Depending on who you talk to, rumors of the death of the Old West, may be somewhat exaggerated. Some say it died when the railroads started carrying beef on the hoof to places like Kansas City and Chicago. Others say it died when barbed wire was invented. Even today, there are those that infer that the Old West lasted until the automobile and paved roads became the norm for transportation. And finally, there are those that believe that the Old West may still exist in small pockets, where a few determined herders somehow manage to work what’s left of the open range.

The Search

Back during the Roaring Twenties, when speakeasies and Jazz music were the rage, Carl Sandburg went on a search. He was looking for genuine cowboy songs from the Old West. To do this properly, the young Midwesterner dropped out of college, crisscrossed the western mountains and prairies, looking for old remnants of years gone by. Somewhere in the high desert of New Mexico, he came across this beauty of a song.

What’s an Old Paint

First of all, an Old Paint is a type of horse common to the American West. Basically, it is a stock horse with a “pinto” pattern of color. The splotched color separates this breed from the solid, American quarter horse. Except for the color pattern, the two types of horses are similar in size, build and stock. Nonetheless, they are considered two separate breeds, which are both quite popular among American horsemen.

About the Song

Too many, “I Ride an Old Paint”, embodies the spirit of the Old West, as well as any folk song. There are many wonderful elements to the horseman’s tale, but perhaps the unusual method of burial is most telling about the special appeal for this Western lament. I seriously doubt that many (if any) cowhands were treated this way after leaving the world of the living. Yet still, there is a communion with the outdoor range, rarely expressed in Western music,when the corpse of the main character is tied to the back of his horse and then set loose into the bush.

Carl Sandburg at age 77

Who Was Carl Sandburg?

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1878. After serving in the military in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, Carl returned to the Midwest, where he worked a variety jobs before he began publishing his own poetry in 1916. As an offshoot of his poetry, he put out a recording of folk songs (1927), gathered from traditional sources. This landmark album included such noted American classics, as the “Sloop John B” and “I Ride an Old Paint”. Over the years, the Old Paint song has one of the most recorded songs in American music.

 

Prince

Prince on the Mountaintop, artwork and photo by artist
Prince on the Mountaintop, artwork by author

Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson died last week and it wasn’t til his death that I realized that Prince was his real name, not a stage name. Though he looked many years younger, Prince Nelson was actually 57 years years old, approximately the same age as my youngest brother, who happens to be a big Prince fan. It’s always sad to see someone younger pass away, especially someone who probably had a lot of creative music left inside him. Nonetheless, his musical output was prodigious and plentiful and as a result there will be lots of Prince recordings and videos to enjoy for years to come.

About The Drawing

Done primarily with art markers, this quick sketch depicts PNR standing on a mountaintop holding a traveler’s umbrella to shelter himself from the “purple rain”. It is meant as a tribute to a talented artist, who was able to ascertain a certain amount of greatness which his fortuitous skill and talent. Not many are able to do this, thus Prince is pictured alone.

What Creative Writers Can Learn from Pink Floyd

Pink_Floyd_-_Division_Bell
This cover for Division Bell was created by Storm Thorgrson. The two heads were intended to symbolize the absence of Waters and Barrett from the band.

A Catchy Title Is Everything

This band began in 1963 as a small group of London architecture students practicing in their school basement, so they could could play at private parties. Eventually the name Pink Floyd was created as a last minute, spur-of-the-moment decision because their chosen band title, The Tea Set, was already being used by another London band. Do you thing this group of musicians would have gone very far with a name like the Tea Set?

Image of Floyd Council, from wikipedia
Image of Floyd Council, from wikipedia

The Title Deriviation Process Is Not All That Important

Syd Barrett, a London art student, and childhood friend of original member, Roger Waters, chose the title based on the first name of two Piedmont blues musians from the US. Though Pink Anderson and Floyd Council never had much name recogniton playing their own music, their names are forever immortalized with the creation with one of world’s most successful and well-known psychedelic, progressive rock bands.

Practice and Perserverence Overrule Talent and Creativity

For both the writer and the musician, practice is most important. Nothing can replace the long hours of  perfecting the scales, riffs and break of contemporary music. Writers go through a similar mental process, as they learn how to master grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to provide a fresh voice to readers. The main difference here is that writers tend to work alone, while most musicians eventually learn to play in accompanyment with other musicians.

Multi-genre Artistic Creations Tend To Reach a Wider Audience

In the early years (the late 60s), Pink Floyd was primarily known as a psychedelic rock band. At the time, psychedelic music was the “in thing” and this British quintet fit the bill very well. As times changed and the band entered a new decade, their music evolved and was often placed under the progressive label. After the release of Dark Side of the Moon was released, a new label was added, “space rock. This occurred despite the fact that the title derives from the dark side of the human mind.

 

pink floyd in concert
Pink Floyd performing in the US, July 1973, photo from wikipedia

Don’t Expect Immediate Success

In 1973 Pink Floyd put out Dark Side of the Moon, which quickly became a bestseller. This groundbreaking release would remain on the charts for 741 weeks, sell 40 million copies and thus become of the most popular rock albums ever. However, it should be noted that this phenomenal success followed seven albums of moderate acclaim and success.

Creative Genius Does Not Equal Mental Stability

Syd Barrett, who is generally recognized as the main creative force behind the original sound of Pink Floyd, left the band in late sixties due to mental health issues.  Excessive use of LSD may have been responsible for his mental condition.

Did You Like This Post?

Then you might like to check out a similar blog by Jeff Goins…….which inspired me to come with my own set of conclusions revolving around how innovative rock musicians can influence artists working in different venues.

Far side of the moon, photographed by Apollo 16
Far side of the moon, photographed by Apollo 16

Knee-deep In Garbage, Firing Rockets at the Moon ( remembering Pete Seeger)

A Trip to the Moon  Image Credit: Georges Méliès, Wikipedia
A Trip to the Moon
Image Credit: Georges Méliès, Wikipedia

“There is hope for the world,” Pete Seeger

The Irascible Troubadour

Pete Seeger first heard the banjo, while traveling through the southern Appalachians with his mother and his stepfather. As it turned out, Pete’s love for the strange sound made by the five-stringed instrument would become a lifetime obsession that would carry him around the world. After working with the prominent folklorist, Alan Lomax, Pete went on to perform with the Weavers. However, Pete’s left-leaning political persuasions caught up with him during the McCarthy era, when he was blacklisted and even imprisoned for a while. The irascible troubadour emerged from the harsh experience to become one of America’s most well-known folksingers and protest performers. After becoming a stalwart of the sixties civil rights and anti-war musical scene, Pete moved on to meet the demands of a worldwide audience.

Pete Seeger at age 88, from Wikipedia, photo by Anthony Pepitone
Pete Seeger at age 88, from Wikipedia, photo by Anthony Pepitone

A Legend Passes On

I saw the headline on the internet the other day. Pete Seeger had died in his sleep at age 94. My first reaction was quite simple……. One can be a rabble rouser and professional shit-stirrer and still live to a ripe old age. And then there is the corollary theory that it is also possible to make a decent living by singing protest songs. Joan Baez did it, Bob Dylan did it, Phil Ochs did it, but nobody did it quite like Pete Seeger….or for as long.

Flash Music

Nowadays we have flash fiction, but Mr. Seeger, the wandering folksinger, was doing the abbreviated musical version, long before the internet made brevity the status quo. Nothing sticks in my mind better than a one line song he sang on one of the late night talk shows (probably Johnny Carson). I think the song went  like this; “Here we are knee-deep in garbage, firing rockets at the moon”. That was it….one line and the song was over and flash music was invented. And Pete had made his point, as only the roving minstrel could do.

Important Update

Nowadays, our rockets at the moon have gotten much more sophisticated. If you don’t believe me, just check out the impressive images sent back to earth by the Hubblecraft, the Cassini spacecraft and the Mars Rover. However, we are still knee-deep in garbage. And the problem seems to be growing.

Pete Seeger’s Favorite Quote

“It is very dangerous to allow the wrong kind of music in the republic”,  Plato.

My Favorite Pete Seeger Quote

“Don’t let your schoolin’ get in the way of your education,” Pete Seeger.

The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble  Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA; Reprocessing: Steven Marx, Hubble Legacy Archive
The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA; Reprocessing: Steven Marx, Hubble Legacy Archive

Bob Dylan’s Transfiguration

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez
Bob Dylan with Joan Baez in 1963, from Wikipedia, photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

“In my case, there’s a whole world of scholars, professors and Dylanologists, and everything I do affects them in some way. And you know in some way I’ve given them life. They’d be nowhere without me.”   Bob Dylan from the Rolling Stone Interview

The Interview

Last week Rolling Stone Magazine officially released their September 27 issue, which included a lengthy interview with Bob Dylan. The interview, which was conducted by Mikal Gilmore had generated some pre-publication press, especially around his quotes concerning plagiarism and U.S. slavery. I actually got my hands on a copy of the R & R mag yesterday and had a chance to read the in-depth discussion between Mr. Dylan and Mr. Gilmore. What I learned was very interesting and also very informative.

Transfiguration

Transfiguration – A marked change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis.     from the American Heritage Dictionary

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the interview is Bob Dylan’s belief…… that he was transfigured, when another person bearing the same name, died in a motorcycle accident in 1964. This is heady stuff indeed, but its inclusion makes for good reading. And that other person, who died in 1964 was named Bobby Zimmerman…..and…he was president of the San Bernadino chapter of Hells Angels at the time of his death. Even stranger still is the publisher’s footnote stating that the Hells Angels guy really died in 1961 almost at the same time that Bob Dylan (formerly known as Robert Zimmerman) got his first big break in the form of a NY Times interview.

The Fifties

Another important fact to note, when discussing the folk bard, is that Dylan was born right before Pearl Harbor and that he attended high school in Hibbing, Minnesota during the fifties. Not only were the 50s a more peaceful time, but also the future folksinger’s early life in the hinterlands of America may have been instrumental in the development of Dylan as a singer and social critic. A quick look and listen to some of the rock’n roll artists of that era will go a long way in learning about how somebody from those years might view the world. If you don’t agree check out this list of the top five R & R hits for that decade.  In descending order it includes Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley, Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets, Tutti-Frutti by Little Richard and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On by Jerry Lee Lewis. This list says a lot.

Other Interesting Topics

Other areas of discussion that caught my eye include a defense of borrowing and some thoughts on John Lennon. Plagiarism is a term tossed around the literary world a lot. In Dylan’s opinion this happens more often than it should be, for it is in unavoidable dilemma that any folksinger, poet playwright, writer or whatnot cannot create fresh material without borrowing from the past. For me that kind of says it all.

Bob Dylan and President Obama
President Obama rewarding Bob Dylan with the Medal of Freedom at the White House, from Wikipedia source NASA