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.
Cowboy poetry readings are usually called gatherings and may occur at any time of the year. For example, The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held every winter (late January or early February) in Elko, Nevada at the Western Folklife Center. The get-together lasts for a long weekend and includes film and music performances, along with the traditional poetry reading and storytelling sequences. It is also a big social event, where members of the sponsoring organization have a chance to get together and share experiences.
Besides the big event at Elko, there are many other Cowboy poetry events that are held around the country. Not surprisingly, many are held in Western States, where ranching is still a way of life. For example, Texas, Montana and Wyoming all have such events on an annual basis. And then, on a smaller scale, fans of this venue can find numerous smaller poetry events, usually supported by interested municipalities, folklore museums and heritage sites. Add all this together and you have an extensive network that supports the colorful poets, storytellers and musicians.
The Bet at the Bar
Watch below, as Waddie Mitchell recounts his humorous tale, The Bet at the Bar. This performance is from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
Music and Poetry
Music is also an important part of Cowboy poetry gatherings. Here Michael Martin Murphy, a successful recording artist in his own right, performs a song at the Elko national gathering.
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.
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.
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.
Today is not only Easter, but also the kickoff for Cowboy Poetry Week. Since the former event is well covered by the churches and press, I will devote the next seven days to the ridin’, ropin’ poets of the Old (and New) West.
If Jesus Was A Cowboy
The present calendar year presents a small dilemma and unique challenge for fans of the Cowboy poetry genre. Since the first day of the poetry week coincides with the Easter holiday, the question might be asked, “What if Jesus was a cowboy?” On a preliminary note, this sounds kind of fanciful, but in reality a variety of Country and Western singers have pondered the idea and over the years recorded tunes with similar titles.
The short list includes Jesus was a Cowboy (Brady Wilson Band), Jesus Was A Country Boy (Clay Walker) and God Must Be a Cowboy (Chris Ladoux). All of these songs are find and dandy for a listen on Easter Sunday, but instead, I have chosen a sincere and thoughtful tune from an obscure singer/songwriter named Kevin Reid. Furthermore, the song is performed by David Glen Eisley, a California rocker of some note.
This blog has been also posted at my alternative site, Bluefoxcafe, which can also be found at WordPress.com. I am currently undertaking an experiment to decide which place gets more traffic.
A couple of weeks ago (October 13th, 2016), the Nobel Prize Committee in Sweden awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature. This particular award has raised some eyebrows, since even though Dylan has penned one autobiographical book, Chronicles (2004), and one book of poetry (1966), called Tarantula, he is not really considered a literary writer. There is even a sequel to Chronicles in the works, but no one, not even Mr. Dylan knows when the manuscript will actually be released to the general public.
Bob Dylan, the Songwriter
What Bob Dylan did do, was to create a body of music and lyrics that has rocked the music industry since the early 60s. Undoubtedly, it is this accomplishment that has earned him the prestigious award and the large sum of money ($900,000) that comes with the little piece of gold. Starting out as a protest folk singer, the Minnesota native has continued to produce new and intriguing music right up to the present day. Some of his lyrical masterpieces that may have helped him earn the award, could include such timeless hits, as Maggies Farm, Desolation Row, Positively 4th Street, Like a Rolling Stone and My Back Pages. Of course any list like this, is highly subjective, as is the award itself.
P.S. His last two releases, Shadows In the Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016) consist almost entirely of Frank Sinatra covers.
A Proverbial Can of Words
My first reaction to the announcement that Dylan had been nominated for the award, was one of surprise, for this seemed to be a major change in direction for the Nobel Committee. True, it has been over a hundred years since the first awards were passed out by the Swedish and Norwegian (Peace Prize only) delegates, but still this choice has the airs of travelling down a new road that will forever change the nature of the highly-regarded, Literature Prize.
The new direction seems unfair and perhaps disrespectful to all the writers across the planet who work daily in creating words that communicate to readers instead of those who prefer to get their words of inspiration from the international music industry. All in all, this is not a good development that may lead to problems in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps, creating a special award for songwriters would be a better alternative.
Over the past two weeks since the award was announced, I have undergone a gradual transformation in my thinking. For one, I have always admired Bob Dylan for creating an oustanding musical and lyrical body of work. There is absolutely, nothing superficial about what the man is done.
What is important in considering the importance of this choice, is the way the Nobel awards are set up. Created in 1900 by the Swedish scientist and inventor, Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation only gives out medals in the endeavors of literature, chemistry, physics, peace and medicine, which is sometimes referred to as physiology. Nothing less, nothing more. And since all this is willed by the late Mr. Nobel, there is no way to change the categories, except by expanding the intellectual ground that each award covers.
So this is why I am more excepting of the commitee’s choice and I do look forward to see who in the near future will receive the literature award.
Yesterday, October 28, 2016, Bob Dylan finally responded to the Nobel Committee, which for the last two weeks, had been trying to contact the reclusive American songwriter. In a statement sent to the Nobel Committee, he said he would accept the prize and also attend the awards ceremony in December, if he could. This closes a two-week period, when no one knew whether or not Mr. Dylan would accept the award or attend the award ceremony.
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.
Have you wondered what kind of weirdo would go out and actually pay good money for Christmas music by over the hill “Rock and Roll Stars”. I never have, for all I had to do, was look in the mirror to get the answer to such a ridiculous question like that.
This year I have made two yuletide purchases of seasonal music and I thought I would share my results with you. The recording artists involved might surprise you, for they are our own homegrown, Bob Dylan, who hails from that marvelous winter wonderland Mecca, called Minnesota; and on the other hand is a man, who calls himself, Sting and is originally from Newcastle, an English city located just south of the Scottish Borderlands and the English-Scottish border. The two recordings are called, “Christmas from the Heart” (by Dylan) and “If On a Winter’s Night” (by Sting).
First, a few words about Mr. Dylan and his first Christmas offering, “Christmas from the Heart”, which can be purchased in two versions. One is the straight CD, and the second version includes four Christmas Cards, for which you have to pay an extra ten dollars. Here is the album cover for “from the Heart”, which kind of looks like an old Christmas card.
My guess is that if you purchase the CD that includes the X-mas cards, this is the image that you will receive. Enough for the visuals, but what about the music. When asked by Bill Flanagan of the Street News Service, why he recorded an album of traditional Christmas songs in such a straightforward manner, Bob replied, “There wasn’t any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight, too.” And perhaps that is the best intro one can give for the somber collection of Christmas tunes that includes such classics as “Little Drummer Boy”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. For a surprisingly, honest rendition of some seasonal classic give this album a try. You’ll like it.
And now on to Sting, who has released his own eclectic recording of music that is more closely tied to theme of winter than that of Christmas. Still many of his songs embrace the Christian theme, as well as the seasonal handle. My favorite song of the album is titled, “Cherry Tree Carol”, a charming medieval tale of how Joseph is requested by the Virgin Mary to gather cherries for the oncoming winter.
Overall Stings musical effort warms your heart, as easily as a mid-January fire burning in a brick-hearth fireplace. Sting, who describes winter as his favorite of the four seasons, says this about the winter season. “Winter is the season of ghosts and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in the season of frosts and in these long hours of darkness.”
So, hopefully your bills are all paid, your woodshed is full of firewood, so you can light up a flame in the fireplace and enjoy the warmth of crackling timbers during the cold of a winter’s night. That’s the atmosphere you will find, when you play this music.