American Plantation and Cowboy Songs
There are many different categories and genres of popular songs coming from the bygone era having endured the test of time as all time favorites. These ever popular songs are referred to by us as ‘vintage songs ‘, ‘standards’, ‘evergreens’, ‘golden oldies’, ‘old favorites’, etc.
In Sri Lanka, the folk cultured in a western environment love these old songs. They could be further classified to different segments – such as cowboy favorites, plantation songs, Dixieland hits, Negro spirituals, calypsos, songs from the British isles, war time hits, barber shop songs, international standards etc. All such songs basically fit into the common idiom of old favorites or golden oldies.
At this moment I am sharing a few facts about two of the above-mentioned categories of songs – namely cowboy songs and plantation songs – two of the popular genres of music and song.
Cowboys and Cowboy Songs
Most of us have heard about cowboys. I recall as a young schoolboy how excited and fascinated we were to hear about cowboys or see them in the movies. Both cowboy songs and movies were very popular then, and its charm has certainly never dwindled but gained immense popularity and acclaim all around the world ever since. In Sri Lanka, these songs are loved, adored and venerated especially by the older folk, who grew up in the midst of these songs and movies.
Cowboys in Reality
It is important to bear in mind that the cowboy story is two-fold. There are
(a) the real cowboys, and
(b) the fantasy cowboys in the movies.
The real American cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle in the ranches of the prairie grasslands of North America – traditionally on horseback. The cowboy culture still exists in Texas (known to be the cowboy capital of the world), Kansas, Utah, Iowa, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Florida and Louisiana. These cowboys are physically able-bodied adolescents with a knack for smart colorful clothes, girlfriends, and gun culture etc. just as the movies depict!
The golden era of cowboys is considered as the period between 1866 to 1886 which is regarded as the era of the ‘open ranch’ or the ‘cattle drive’ era, when cattle had to be moved in great numbers as one herd to distant railheads to be taken for shipment, by the cowboys on horseback, due to the turbulence of the civil war.
Cowboys in the Movies
The real life cowboy story is agricultural in nature and of American heritage. Therefore, cowboys that we are talking about now are the film idols who portrayed the life style of the real ones – of course, with fiction and a lot of drama thrown in, to keep the movie goer in suspense…. and how well they succeeded in doing this!
Inspiration for Filmmaking
The cowboy culture was so appealing and magnetic that it is amazing how it inspired moviemakers to use it to their liking. Outlaws, bandits, drunkards, ambushes, vendettas, rattle-snakes, cattle, robbery, horse-riding, gun culture, love and women, storms, lonely nights, campfires, music and song of real cowboy life projected and provided an ideal setting and background for successful and exciting movie scripts. As a result, movie legends and many hundreds of cowboy songs were gifted to the world.
Cowboy Singers and Songs
Cowboy movies and songs became one of the most popular genres of music and arts around the world. They were the rage during the 1950/60 period.
The best-known cowboy film idol and singer (among a galaxy of other legendary stars) was Roy Rogers known as the ‘King of the Cowboys’. He was the idol and hero to every youngster all around the world (more about him at a later date).
Don’t Fence Me In, Home on the Range, Cattle Call, Red River Valley, My Rifle, My Pony and Me, Rose of San Antone, Roll Along Blue Shadows, Happy Trails, Lonely River are a few of the all time cowboy favorites.
Apart from Roy Rogers, perhaps the other best known cowboy film idol and singer was Gene Autry. We have also heard of other cowboy singers such as Jimmy Rogers, Tex Ritter and latterly Hank Snow, Eddie Arnold, and Marty Robbins among others.
Due to the wide coverage and treatment the cowboy culture received in fiction and in films, the cowboy has become the iconic image of the American west.
Read Plantation Songs