This issue of my Senior Moments journal is dedicated to all those cowboys and cowgirls who have inspired us by their hard working lifestyle, their unabashed love of God and country, their efforts to preserve both the land and the way of life that generations have passed down. I got my cowboy values the traditional way. No, it wasn't from riding the range from before dawn to after sunset to gather cattle or to plow fields or to harvest crops. I got those values from watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy on the big silver screens at Fillmore and Santa Paula and Newhall (now Santa Clarita) California. And only years later, as an adult, sometimes having the pleasure of knowing some real, honest-to-God working cowboys and cowgirls. Oh, yes, my father worked most all his life as a farmer. And he worked for a few years on the historical Newhall Ranch (technically, the "Newhall Land & Farming Company") which owned miles and miles of mountains and range land and farm production from just north of San Fernando all the way to Piru, California. However, he worked in the farming division of the Newhall Ranch and we lived in the middle of hundreds of acres of English walnut trees. With ranch land all around us, though, my parents--Harold and Evelyn (Cauthen) Paregien--made sure my sister Roberta and I had horses to ride. And they seemed not to worry much when we packed some peanut butter sandwiches and rode off in the morning to explore or to play cowboys and didn't come back until late afternoon. Those were wonderful times for us, mostly carefree and relaxed. And those experiences of building "forts" and "hideouts" in the brush down in the river bed of the Santa Clara River and sometimes chasing the company cattle that had the misfortune of crossing our paths carry pleasant memories to this day. Then in about 1984, I met Western novelist Jory Sherman at a writers conference in Oklahoma City. He told me about the work and mission of the Western Writers of America and invited me to attend their convention that summer in some jerk-water town over in the Ozarks of Missouri called . . . what was it . . oh, yeah . . . Branson. I was welcomed with wide-open arms by Tommy Thompson (the first person I met in the lobby), Elmer Kelton, Max Evans, Don Coldsmith, Richard House and many others. And for the next eight years or so Peggy and I attended almost every convention and I became deeply involved as the organization's first historian and as their public relations chairman. Those were heady years,
rubbing elbows with writers whom I deeply respected, some of whom had extensive ranching experience. And then, in about 1990, I got interested in cowboy poetry. No, really, I became addicted to cowboy poetry. I read it, I listed to others recite their poetry and then much to my own surprise, I began to write and perform my own poetry and stories. That activity led me to perform at many of the major Western events around the country. And, once more, I was thrilled to be around lots of folks with pretty stout ranching credentials. Well, folks, I've said all of that just to say this: Thanks to all of you Westerners who have given your lives and talents to making sure that the real history of the West and even the exaggerated tales of the West will be passed down to future generations. Well done, pards. Now, sit back and enjoy some bits and piece of cowboy stuff which I have compiled.
A Cowboy Cruiser
From Whence came the (Singing) Cowboy? by Buck Helton Nov. 21, 2012 for the "Cowboy Music & Poetry" interest group on Facebook
Contrary to what you might see in Roy Rogers movies, chuckwagons did not commonly carry all the instruments (including an upright bass) for a five piece band. And as fast as Trigger was, he couldn’t really outrun Nelly-Bell. Working Cowboys weren’t in the habit of wearing rhinestones. Embroidery and fancy work were mostly for girl’s clothes, and the only fringe to be found was on buckskins. However, long before there were Cowboy Movies or records, there was Cowboy Music, and Cowboy Poetry. Many Cowboy songs started out as poems. “Home on the Range” for example, started out as a poem called “My Western Home,” by a Kansas physician. The very first hit Cowboy record, “When the Works All Done This Fall,” started life as a poem by D. J. O’Malley called “After the Round-up.” Another O’Malley piece, “The Cowboy’s Sweet Bye and Bye,” set to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” became “The Cowboy’s Dream.” It came down to us in that form from the diary of Owen Wister. Despite the image of the Cowboy singing in the saddle, strumming his guitar as he rode along, guitars of the period were rather fragile, had far less volume than today’s examples and were very difficult to keep in tune. (Gut strings are easily affected by even small changes in temperature and humidity.) While you might find one in the bunkhouse at the home ranch, they were not normally seen on a trail drive. You’d usually find a fiddle or two, harmonica, and maybe a concertina, or button box. (Early examples of the Accordion) You’d certainly hear songs like “Home on the Range,” “The Lane County Bachelor,” and “The Old Chisholm Trail,” along with bawdy songs like “The Unfortunate Rake,” and “The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing.” Often followed, strangely enough, by a hymn which would be applauded and appreciated just as much.
Cowboys then, as now, would sing around the campfire and tell stories and recite poems to entertain themselves. They would also sing while on night guard to keep the cattle calm. Some of the “night herding” songs have upwards of sixty published verses, and hundreds of others not fit to print! It was possible, in theory, to sing one night herding song through an entire two hour shift, and not repeat a verse. The first published adventures of the Cowboy were dime novels, and their British counterpart, the penny dreadful. A hundred years before Louis L’Amour started writing Sackett stories, the Cowboy was already a folk hero known around the world. And wherever the Cowboy went, his songs and stories went with him. So when Edison invented motion pictures, and then figgered out they could be used to tell stories; it’s not surprising that some of the first stories told were Westerns. Of course, those early films were silent. But as soon as a way to synchronize sound with pictures was developed, the movies would be changed forever. The first commercially successful “talkie” The Jazz Singer” with vaudeville star Al Jolson was released in 1927. About eighteen months later, the very first “Singing Cowboy” would appear. It was Ken Maynard in the 1929 Universal film "The Wagon Master." He only did two songs: “Lone Star Trail” and “Cowboy’s Lament.” (Both of which he’d previously recorded for Columbia records.) But those were the most authentic pieces of Cowboy music ever to have appeared on film at that time. Maynard started out as a working Cowboy and later appeared as a trick rider with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He would later join the cast of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show, along with his white stallion, Tarzan. He became an early star of Westerns, along with Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, and William S. Hart. He sang only a few times on film, but the seed was planted. Music in Westerns was here to stay; the quality just needed a little work. By this time commercially recorded Western music had gained a firm foothold in the ears and imagination of the country. When Carl T. Sprague’s 1925 recording of “When the Works All Done This fall” sold over nine hundred thousand records, it seemed Cowboy singers were suddenly everywhere. The singing Cowboy would next appear in the person of John Wayne. In the 1931 Lone Star release, Riders of Destiny, he played “Singing Sandy” Saunders. His musical lines were dubbed by Bill Bradbury (brother of Cowboy star Bob Steele). The Duke would sing in some of his later films, and he sounded about like you thought he would, which is why they dubbed him in "Riders" and also in "The Man From Utah."
By now A former railroad telegrapher was taking the country by storm. First on KVOO out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Then, as a regular on the WLS Barn Dance out of Chicago. Gene Autry wanted to transition into movies, but while he was a fine entertainer he couldn’t (by his own admission) act his way out of a wet paper bag. Nat Levine with Mascot Studios had put Gene under contract, but he hadn’t quite figgered out what to do with him yet, when Ken Maynard came riding to the rescue. Actually it was Ken Maynard’s manager, wanting Levine to buy into a new Maynard Western. Ken was getting old, and he was no longer the top draw he had been, though he was still popular. Well, Levine agreed to buy into the picture on one condition: Gene Autry had to appear and sing in the movie. This was unheard of at the time. The few times music had been featured in Westerns, it had always been the star doing the singing. Ken, however, was all for it, even if his manager was a bit skeptical. The 1934 film, In Old Santa Fe, was a huge hit. Gene stole the show, despite only being on screen for a few minutes. In 1935 Tumbling Tumbleweeds was released. The very first “Singing Cowboy” movie. A genre created especially for Gene Autry. He was followed by Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Wakely, and many others. Also, a little known fact. Gene always said that if it hadn’t been for Ken Maynard he wouldn’t have had a career. When Ken had to leave the movies due to declining health and his battle with alcoholism in 1944. Gene Autry quietly supported him for the rest of his life. So there you have it friends and neighbors, the true story of how the West was “sung.” Happy Trails! [ Buck "The Big Man" Helton was given that name for a reason. He stands 6' 6" tall (before he puts on his high-crowned cowboy hat) and weighs in at a mere 295 pounds. His main work is not done with his guns or his fists, but with his big, smooth singing voice. He is quite to say, “I'm here to remind folks that this music, and this culture didn't die when Roy and Gene quit making movies and TV shows, and to teach the next generation the Cowboy Way.” Buck was born and raised in Dallas, TX and lives there today, though he has spent some time in other parts of Texas and Louisiana. He was raised by a loving family of singers and professional entertainers that passed on their love of music to him. He made his stage debut in 1965 when his mother, Judy Beaver; six months pregnant with baby Buck, performed with Noro Wilson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, NV. He made his professional debut outside the womb at age five
when he performed at a Bluegrass concert at the Northpark Mall in Dallas. “I did Home on the Range, with a Bluegrass band backing me, and I’ve been in love with both styles ever since.” Buck, with over 40 years worth of experience in showbiz, has released his 10th album From the Mountains to the Prairie. It focuses on the Irish & Scottish roots of Western music, delving into the Irish songs that were popular amongst the working Cowboys of the late 1800’s, and the Cowboy songs they became. Buck’s expertise in the Cowboy lifestyle drives his musical fervor and inspires all his work. “I do the research and go into the stories behind the songs, and I was a working Cowboy when I was younger” he adds, “and no one else that I've found does the mix of Western Music, Yodeling, Humor, Cowboy Poetry, Irish, Bluegrass and Traditional Country that I do.” He has won distinguished awards from the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum and the Cowtown Opry and is an award-winning Cowboy poet with published works. He’s also a DJ, and is the author of the Western Humor book “Tales of the B-O Ranch” which has been nominated for the Will Rogers award for Western Humor. He writes the “Golden Nuggets” column for the Western Way magazine, and frequently is called upon for Emcee duties at the gatherings he attends. For more information, music samples, and Buck’s touring schedule, please visit his official website. http://www.Buckthebigman.com. Connect with Buck on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/Buckthebigman. Be sure and stop by Buck’s Cowboy Music club on Yahoo and Facebook -- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cowboymusic Cowboy Music & Poetry group on Facebook .
One of the advantages of being a member of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City is that of receiving regular copies of Persimmon Hill. Doesn't this young girl's smile just make your day?
Hey, neighbors, I'm delighted my volume of cowboy poetry has been nominated for the coveted "Buck Ramsey Cowboy Poetry Book Award" being awarded early in 2013 by the Academy of Western Artists.
Ain't it the truth, pards, . . . ain't it the doggone truth.
Do you suppose they say around in the evening and sang, "Kumbaya"?
No Wrangler jeans for this cowgirl.
The cowboy and his hat
From top: Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, Glenn Ford & Clint Eastwood.
Cartoonists always have fun with "cowboy" illustrations
Men and a woman riding horseback in about 1900
We have seen Michael perform at his Cowboy Christmas Ball several times over the years and he always puts on a great show. Adios, amigos.
Stan Paregien's Senior Moments is an occasional publication. Issue 18, dated Dec. 2, 2012, was posted at http://issuu.com/cowboystan/docs/