Sunday, May 18, 2014

Black cowboys: Western recordings by African-American artists

Western movies and television shows were ubiquitous in the '50s and popular with all demographics. To illustrate that point, today's Music Weird compiles a set—in no particular order—of Western songs and Western-themed recordings by jazz and R&B artists. 

The United States has a tradition of black cowboys, as described in books such as Black Cowboys of Texas, but most of the songs presented here reflect pop culture, not tradition. They reference the themes and characters of television and movies, like all of those 1950s songs about monsters, outer space, spies, and cartoon characters. 

The Marquees – "Wyatt Earp" (OKeh 7096, 1957)

Harold Burrage – "Hi-Yo Silver" (Decca 48175, 1950)

The Treniers – "Ride Man, Ride (Hi-Yo Silver)" (OKeh 6932, 1953)

The Treniers' version of the Harold Burrage song.

The Ravens – "Boots and Saddle" (Jubilee 5237, 1956)

This video features both sides of Jubilee 5237, so you have to skip past (or listen to) "I'll Always Be in Love With You" to get to "Boots and Saddle." 

The Clovers – "Have Gun (Will Travel)" (United Artists 307, 1961)

The Fiestas – "Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon" (Old Town 1104, 1961)

The Delacardos also recorded a song called "Mr. Dillon" (United Artists UA310) but no video of it is on YouTube.

The Cadets – "Love Bandit" (Modern 1012, 1957)

The Mills Brothers – "Home on the Range" (Hamilton HS-12116, 1964)

Screamin' Jay Hawkins – "Take Me Back (to My Boots and Saddle) " (Philips 40674, 1970)

Screamin' Jay Hawkins's mother was a huge Gene Autry fan and refused to listen to his recording of Autry's signature song, "Take Me Back (to My Boots and Saddle)," because she thought that Screamin' Jay was making fun of Autry. 

Fats Domino – "Along the Navajo Trail" (Imperial LP 9153, 1961)

The Blue Belles – "Cool Water" (Newtown 5009, 1962)

Patti LaBelle's early group performing the classic Sons of the Pioneers song. No video, but you can hear a sample here.

Herb Jeffries – "I'm a Happy Cowboy" (1938)

From the film Two-Gun Man from Harlem. Jeffries, known as the "Bronze Buckaroo," was the silver screen's first black singing cowboy. He recently died at the age of 100. 

Lee Dorsey – "Ride Your Pony" (Amy 927, 1965)

Sammy Davis Jr. – "Wagon Wheels" (Capitol, 1950)

No video, but you can hear a sample here

Nat King Cole – "Twilight on the Trail" (Capitol T 1793, 1962)

From Cole's 1962 album Ramblin' Rose

The Olympics – "Western Movies" (Demon FF-1508, 1958)

The biggest hit on this page, "Western Movies" was a Top 10 hit in the US and UK. 

Sonny Rollins – Way Out West album (Contemporary C3530, 1957)

Includes Rollins' renditions of "I'm an Old Cowhand," "Wagon Wheels," and others. 

Billy Williams Quartet – "Cattle Call" (Mercury 70210, 1953)

Williams yodels in this recording!

J.J. Johnson – Man and Boy soundtrack (Sussex SXBS 7011, 1971)

J.J. Johnson composed the soundtrack for the Bill Cosby Western movie Man and Boy, and many of the compositions have an Ennio Morricone flavor. I've watched this movie, and it's grittier than you might expect a Cosby movie to be.  

Johnson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, by the way. 

Booker T and the M.G.'s – "Hang 'Em High" (Stax STA-0013, 1968)

A Top 10 pop hit and Top 40 R&B hit. 

Sam Cooke – "One Hour Ahead of the Posse" (Keen 82105, 1959) and "Along the Navajo Trail" (Keen 82112, 1960)

This list isn't exhaustive. If you have other examples, add them in the comments!

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