Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd Page: 145
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SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF COWBOY SONGS
BY NEWTON GAINES
At intervals during my boyhood I was precipitated into
the midst of five healthy youngsters on a certain ranch in the
Big Bend country of West Texas. Upon the morning after one
such precipitation in my tenth year, sore of muscle and bone
and sunburned on my face, neck, and short-panted legs, I
complained to my mother, "I can't stand up and I can't sit
down and I can't lie down. What am I going to do!" It was
during these tastes of the raw, vigorous life on horseback or
about campfire that I came to know and to love the cowboy
A few years ago I asked a prominent musician what he
thought of the cowboy song. "There is nothing distinctive
about it," he replied. "The skilled musician can see in each
tune merely the revamping of some older printed song, and
the words as a rule are crude and meaningless to me."
Upon questioning him further, I found out that he had never
heard the songs sung on a ranch, on trail, or in a cattle camp,
but that encores by concert singers, "close harmony" songs by
college clubs, and printed editions of cowboy songs distorted
to make them salable were his only sources of opinion. Within
the last few years we have all heard a distorted version of the
most used of night-herding songs set to an accompaniment
imitative of cathedral bells!
I am confident that there is in the cowboy song something
distinctive and different from any other spontaneous song
product of a people. During the heyday of the cowboy song,
the seventies and eighties, in the West and Southwest, the
Anglo-Saxon was experiencing a form of pastoral life his race
had never experienced before, the form in which vast herds
are driven long distances. Certainly his reaction to this new
experience, expressed in song, should be expected to have
combinations of qualities never heard before in the folk-
singing of his people.
The most outstanding quality of these songs, to me, is the
rhythm. This rhythm is almost always that of the Western
horse; I have discovered and am able to differentiate three
Here’s what’s next.
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Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964. Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd, book, 2000; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc38315/m1/147/: accessed April 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.