A few years ago while perusing the CD rack in the Wyoming Home store in downtown Cheyenne, I stumbled upon what has become one of my favorites of all time: Stampede! Western Music’s Late Golden Era.
Featuring the very cream of the old crooners such as Tex Ritter, Eddy Arnold and Marty Robbins, this collection of music invariably makes me smile, sing along, and laugh heartily at the mental image of some guy in a really nice rust-colored sweater and pencil pants cracking a whip in a recording studio. At the first blast of horns and furious strings on the title track “Stampede,” I usually grab my steering wheel with a bit more gusto and tuck my chin down so that I can sing along with the low romping tune. And then I chuckle. Oh, it’s such melodramatic cowboy goodness.
Have gun, will travel reads the card of a man, a knight without armor in a savage land. His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind, a soldier of fortune is the man called….Paladin….There’s something about this song. It drives, it yearns, it jingles, it gallops…such action. It is the very plaintive essence of that Western Goodness that has, quite plainly, vanished from our far-too-advanced entertainment culture. How can one mourn something one never experienced? I do it all the time, so it must be possible. I was just a mere glimmer in my papa’s adolescent eye when all of this was going down, but it’s where I would go in a time machine, given the opportunity.
An aside: the only bright beacon of pistol-totin’, “h’yah!”-hollerin’ hope that I’ve seen of late is one of the year’s best films, in my opinion: 3:10 to Yuma. Folks, for so many reasons, this is a must-see. My blood was charging through my veins in the closing scenes and I felt like Pledging Allegiance and calling my dad when I walked out of the theatre. It was my most recent DVD purchase ($16.99 on sale at Target), and my next just might have to be the complete first season of Have Gun Will Travel.
Track two of the compilation, “High Noon,” boasts the rich, high-tremolo tone of Tex Ritter…wow, now there’s a voice. O to be torn ‘twixt love and duty! S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty! Look at that big hand move along, nearin’ high noon..(although he pronounces it quite differently…fa-yah ha-yah’d b’yoo-tee) I don’t think there’s been a vocalist like him since. Further down the track list is another Western standard, “Cattle Call” by Eddy Arnold. His yodeling intro is altogether other-worldly, but that’s not the only yodeling you’ll hear on this record.
In the spirit of high cowboy drama I’ll leave you with these lyrics from the aforementioned “Stampede” track, another one of the album’s many gems. These particular phrases are spoken in a furied bridge of the song, and usually make me wish I had a long duster coat and a pair o’ spurs…
Cold black clouds like funeral shrouds roll down their icy threat, and we face to fight this raging night with odds on the side death. For a stampeding herd when its panic is stirred is a thing for a cowboy to shun. For no mortal man ever holds command when the cattle are on the run!