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.

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.

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

Another Rock Star, Another Memoir

Arp 188 and the Tadpole's Tail
Arp 188 and the Tadpole’s Tail
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA;

The Literary Man

Pete Townshend has long been associated with the rock band, The Who. In fact, along with Roger Daltry, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, he helped form the band way back in 1964, when the quartet first started playing British nightclubs. Today, The Who is generally recognized as one of the holy trinity of British Rock bands. The other two would be of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Who were one of the top rock bands of the sixties and seventies until two tragic events signaled the beginning of the end for this musical quartet. These were the death of Keith Moon in 1978 and a Cincinnati concert in 1979, where eleven fans were killed. As a result, by the early eighties, the band called, The Who, was breaking up. In July of 1983, Pete Townshend took on a job at Faber and Faber Books as an editor, thus completing the breakup of The Who.

Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972
Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972

Townshend’s Literary Accomplishments

As major songwriter and wordsmith, for one of the most popular live bands, ever to come onto the rock scene, Pete Townshend has earned his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also in the general popular culture of the sixties and seventies. Nowhere are his literary talents more evident than with the rock opera, “Tommy”, a musical creation in which Townshend had the dominant roll.

On a strictly literary note, Townshend should  be noted for a series of three articles that he wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine. These appeared between 1970 and 1977; and were mostly about The Who. Also in 1977 Townshend started Eel Pie Publishing, which featured children’s books, music books and a London bookstore called The Magic Bus. Townshend has also published a book of his own short stories, called Horses Neck (19850) along with several scripts for short films and plays.

The Who in Chicago in 1975
The Who, original line up, performing in Chicago. Left to right: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend. from Wikipedia, photo by Jim Summaria

Who I Am

Just this fall (October 2012) Pete Townshend has released yet another memoir/autobiography by yet another wealthy and over-sexed Rock & Roll superstar. Is it worth reading? I can’t tell you because I haven’t read the book. but is has been on the NY Times Bestseller list for at least several weeks, since its release.  However, given Townshend’s longtime association with writing and his stint as an acquisitions editor, this book might dig deeper into the mindset of one of the world’s premier rock musicians. Early reviews, such as this one at LitKicks, tend to indicate that Pete Townshend has penned a first-rate intra-perspective book on his own personal journey through life.

Pete Townshend Today
Pete Townshend playing in Philadelphia in 2008 with the Who, from Wikipedia, photo by Kubackeck

“Severe and Profound Loss of Hearing from Years of Playing Country Music”

19th century cartoon caricature
19th century cartoon caricature by Udo J. Keppler

David Allan’s Defense

David Allan Coe, a noted country & western singer and songwriter, had his case against the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino thrown out of court this week by an Iowa judge. The case revolved around an incident that occurred in June 2008, when Coe was visiting the casino and tackled by Polk County sheriif’s deputies because he disobeyed an order from the same deputies. Coe’s reason for not responding to the order is reprinted as the title of this post.

As a response to the incident, Coe had sued the casino operators, but the case was thrown out of court because the judge ruled that the deputies were acting under orders from the deputy’s office and there fore not under control of the casino and racetrack.

Who Is David Allan Coe?

David Allan Coe, now 72 years of age, perhaps achieved his greatest fame as author of “Take This Job and Shove It“, a smash hit made popular by Johny Paycheck. However, Coe is long-standing C & W performer, who has been around the performing circuit for awhile.

Waylon, Willie & Me

Mr. Coe obtained some crossover country-rock attention with a song entitled Waylon, Willie and Me“, a clever tune that equated the creative value of the Texas “outlaw” music of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson with the lesser known singer and songwriter, David Allan Coe. At the time this and other popular tunes provided the Texas singer with a midling recording and performing career, though he never obtained the fame and notoriety of the his two “outlaw” comrades.

C & W “Bad Boy”

Despite his solid reputation as an excellent songwriter, Coe has never received the attention that other singers and songwriters have achieved. This kind of story is always open to speculation, as to why this has happened, and Coe’s trail to fame is no exception. Most likely, it is the singers irascible nature along with his frank exploration of such contemporary issues as drug use, prison time, sexual exploitation and the dark side of rural life that have kept him on the fringes of popular music. Coe was once described by Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic magazine, as such; ” he may not be the most original outlaw, but there’s none more outlaw than him.”

David Allan Coe in concert
David Allan Coe performing in 2009