Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blood on the Saddle

I was painting an adobe wall in my cantina; blood red; found a stack of long playing albums. Tex Ritter’s “Blood on the Saddle” leaning on Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.” If God made two better cowboy records (to paraphrase W.S. Burroughs) he kept them to his glorious self. Tex Ritter sang with the hang-dog snarl of a gravedigger with a thorn stuck in his craw. Bloody. Raw. His voice crawled up your backbone; the whisper of a hired killer pointing a gun at your back in a dark alley. “Barbara Allen,” “Streets of Laredo,” “Sam Hall,” “Sam Bass,” “Billy the Kid.” Deep Folklore from an authentico. Marty Robbins was the Pavarotti of Western song and was a helluva writer. Contemporary cowboy poetry and song pales by comparison. Non-dairy creamer. (Except for Ian Tyson and Pablo Zarzyski.) Ah, but Tex Ritter! Otis Blackwell, who wrote many of Elvis Presley’s early hits, told me once that Tex was his favorite singer. The Tex Ritter cowboy attitude, imbued within the rolling rhythms of Blackwell’s “All Shook Up” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” created the tone of some of the finest early rock.

Here’s a brief Tex Ritter anecdote: we were up in the French alps one dark night; visiting the widow of the famous painter Count Balthus - Countess Setsuko - a beautiful Japanese lady whom Balthus had often painted. We were invited to tea in the ancient chalet. A spectacular, five storey ornate structure on the side of forested mountain. Spooky. The countess received us in a formal manner; dressed in a kimono and wooden slippers. She began asking us questions about our lives. Picasso and Balthus paintings stared down from the wall. The conversation rattled safely and stiffly along; until I told her I wrote and sang songs. “What sort of songs?” she asked. “All sorts,” I said. Then she squinted and looked me in the eye: “Do you ever sing cowboy songs?” “Yes,” I said. “The dark ones?” she asked. “Dark? You mean like Tex Ritter?” I asked. Her eyes widened and she clapped her hands together and almost jumped out of her antique chair. “Ah, yes! Tex Ritta! Tex Ritta! I love Tex Ritta!” She called the house boy to bring the whiskey decanter and I sang a little of “High Noon.” I closed my eyes and somewhere a pisterlero was galloping his horse along a high ridge as a gunfighter was riding in on a train to kill Gary Cooper. Grace Kelly was catching the next stage out. “Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day…..”Tex Ritter’s voice castes a long shadow across our minstrel history. It resonates with the true grit and gen of the noir folklore stuff we’re looking for in cowboy and gunfighter ballads. Out on the eternal frontier. Go ask Countess Setsuko.

“There was blood on the saddle, and blood all around, and a great big puddle, of blood on the ground…a cowboy lay in it…”

12 comments:

Neil Crabtree said...

There are some great Marty Robbins videos on Youtube, including "El Paso" and Gordon Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness."

My favorite is "Big Iron" but there are many others. It's great to hear that these two American artists have universal appeal.

donkeygal said...

Ian Tyson, Marty Robbins and Tom Russell. It doesn't get any better. Took in Tom's two concerts at the Ironwood in Calgary, Alberta. Closed my eyes, and it was like riding across the ruby red desert, the ancient ones looking on, the wind stirring the sand spirits. Mule trains moving in a shifting mirage. Buckaroos and vaqueros. Tradition. Grit. The heat. The lost West. Wasn't a concert; it was more than that. A moment. A captured memory. A tribute to what matters. Thank you, thank you. Put me in the saddle, along the Old Spanish Trail. Then I'll be a happy rider!

Saddle Tramp said...

" Fear has been my pale rider [...] "

Quoting Charles Bowden from yesterday's NPR Radio Times interview with his fortcoming book " Murder City ... "
as he continues his duty, not pleasure of reporting on Ciudad Juarez across the scarred border from Marty Robbins El Paso City. In a growling truth of an interview, Charles Bowden, in Tom Russell fashion; lays it out for all to hear. However, there ain't too many listenin' in Arizona from the sound of Sherriff Joe in Maricopa County and the new law about to be signed in. The guilty will stil run free. More innocent blood in the saddle ...
Many dark songs crossing the border ...


-saddle tramp
Via: Texarkana en route to San Diego from the Port of Elizabeth, NJ with Chinese apple juice that is going across the border into Mexico. How the world goes round. My last
long line run. East Coast turnaround. Going regional. The Phoenix - San Diego - Los Angeles triangle. Tightening the loop. Not easy to give up the Nationwide. Water to water ... takin' it in ... Be to Pecos tonight and El Paso tomorrow.
Lost in the saddle ...

Abner Mull said...

Much contemporary cowboy music follows closely in the footsteps of the likes of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. If you really want authentic, though, you have to lose the guitar, the backing vocals:

"...the guitar did not become ubiquitous until it was made a permanent part of the singing cowboy image by movie stars and recording artists." (Hitching Verse to Tune: The Relationship of Cowboy Song to Poetry, Charlie Seemann)

"Cowboy songs were always sung by one person, never a group." (Jack Thorp, quoted in Jack Thorp's Songs of the Cowboy, Edited and introduced by Mark L. Gardner).

The banjo has seemingly become mostly associated with bluegrass music in recent years, but banjos were more common than guitars back in the day:

"Yes, the banjo was in the majority on the range... I can honestly say that where I saw one guitar in a cow camp I saw twenty banjos and double that number of mouth harps, and once in a while a violin." (D.J. O'Malley, quoted in A Montana Cowboy Poet, John I. White)

The banjos were played without picks, more likely in a clawhammer style, though three-finger "guitar style" was apparently popular in the late 19th century as well (see: Gardner).

(Seeman and White essays can be found in Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry, Edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher)

Having said all that, I think among contemporary cowboy singer/songwriters, Brenn Hill is doing some interesting stuff. But what do I know?

I Witness said...

I'll add another brief tale of Tex. I was working at a Safeway near the University of Washington in the mid-Sixties, cashiering, stocking shelves, whatever. One day in came Tex with a woman maybe 40, and a young teen girl. I hung back, didn't try to accost 'em; they bought a few things and left. Over the next several months the females came in fairly often (but no Tex). I did talk to them... she said they were his wife and daughter. But the bios talk of Dorothy and two boys only. Hmmm.

Later the two gals moved on also, or maybe I did, can't remember when I quit that store. But I do recall the woman telling me once, deadpan and slowly enunciating each syllable, "There is no Safeway." I was focussed on punching the prices on the old-style register, and by the time I caught on to what she had said, they were gone out the door. Blood on some saddle somewhere, I guess.

RexTemples0217 said...

There is no key to happiness, only a ladder...................................................

Charlene said...

My boy had to do an "El Paso project" for school. This consisted of pictures and narrative notes that he took and wrote (of course Mama had to put her part in). So my co-worker grew up in Smeltertown living with her grandmother. She shared stories she learned living under that ASARCO smokestack. Her Grandmother would tell her the windows of the house were small and high up so that the bullets heard in the street at night couldn't get in. In the morning the bodies would be there in the river of the ones who didn't get away crossing the spirits that were prohibited as the drugs are today. Same place, different day. Blood in the saddle and blood in the River.

Charlene, Laura's neighbor, El Paso, Texas.

嘉偉 said...

may the blessing be with you.........................................

采瑩 said...

IT IS A VERY NICE SUGGESTION, THANK YOU LOTS! ........................................

Saddle Tramp said...

The last long ride ...

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Recv'd my signed copy of Museum of Memories thanks to Bill & Corky at Village Records and your Knuckleheads
concert in KC last year. I finally got around to getting it delv'd. It was piggybacked with your Cowboy'd All To Hell cd. Worth it just to get the cover art and a single
compilation of so many of my favorites that finishes out with The Rose of San Joaquin that will always remind me of my hundreds of rides up the 99 ...
Graciás Tomás ...
You stand in good company now with Guy Clark, Ramblin' Jack and Larry Mahan ...
Cowboy'd all to hell ...

Been border to border
And water to water
Been top to bottom.
And side to side
Giddyup ....
I'm Nationwide
A long way from ...
No Home

Seen too much blood in the saddle all these many many miles ...

-saddle tramp
Via: A cool night in Pomona ...

Note: Tom, I'm not sure if the photos will come through
sending with iPhone. Beyond my technical ability. Thank Gawd you are still puttin' out cd's ...

士瑋 said...

很用心的blog,推推哦 ........................................

Mike Gerrard said...

Tom Russell singing High Noon? I'd pay to hear that.