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From the liner notes:
THE TRUE WEST
Never in this land before us,
And nevermore hereafter,
Could a land know such a people
As the pioneer, or cowboy:
His unique brand of lingo,
His boots and his bandana,
All his devil deeds of daring,
His clothes, and way of living.
But mainly, that gun dangling
So his hand could get it quickly;
Always wary of the weather
Always ready–for he must be!
Listen to the cowboy’s story,
And if you cannot hear it
In these legends, songs and stories,
Listen closely to the west wind
And the secrets that it whispers
In the forest, plains and valleys,
In the sand forever shifting.
Four years ago, CBS Records album producer Don Law said to me, “John, think about making an album of Western songs”, I thought about it, and Don knew I would attempt it when I was ready. Later, as a guest in my house, he brought me two books on Western lore. But nothing was mentioned about a Western album. Instead, we talked about fishing.
Reading the books Don Law left me. I became fascinated by true tales of the West. I bought up every issue of “True West”, a successful magazine published in Texas and sold coast to coast. (Later, I learned that the magazine is read and swapped around by servicemen overseas, and that some early issues are worth up to ten dollars apiece.)
Then, while I was making a personal appearance in Austin, Texas. Joe Austell Small, publisher of Western Publications, said to me, “John Cash, you’d be a good feller to ride the river with.” He invited me to his offices where he publishes “True West”, “Frontier Times” and “Old West.” I saw his Remington and Russell paintings, and later, over a Mexican-style buffet, we got excited about the record album 4 was planning called THE TRUE WEST. Joe Small rode the river with me. and we became the best of friends, I hope we stall are after he hears it; he sweated blood along with me to help me make it.
A few months ago. Don Law called me. “Johnny, old boy, aren’t we about ready to do that Western album?” I was afraid he’d ask that. I said “Yes”, then locked myself in my room full of books and took out. pen and paper to begin sketching my plans for the songs and stories that would go into THE TRUE WEST.
The books by John Lomax, Carl Sandburg, Botkin, Dobie and all the rest–were confusing. closed the books and decided to call Tex Ritter to ask it he would come and help me and let me hear his side of it all. Mr. Ritter drove to my home and sat with me three hours with a tape recorder running and we went over the possibilities of the album. We became so involved in going over some three hundred Western songs that we developed an intense “true West” attitude toward it all. So far as songs are concerned, there was only room for about twenty, at the most, on the two records- and that would only just about touch the forty or fifty years that I was to sing about.
But here, at least, is a part of it. Thanks to Joe Small and to Tex Ritter, a man whom I respect and am so very much indebted to far the time he gave me; to Peter LaFarge, my Indian friend who had almost every bone broken in his rodeo days; to “Ramblin’ ” Jack Elliott, who care to Nashville and advised me when I “didn’t know gee from haw”; to Gene Ferguson, of CBS Records, who quietly sat still and pulled for me: to the Tennessee Three; to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra; to the Carter Family: to the Stater Brothers: to Bob Johnson, who plays 2,001-year-old folk songs because he simply likes them; to Tor Morgan of Hollywood who sat up all night writing violin arrangements for some of these songs.
But thanks mainly to album producers Don Law and Frank Jones who worked seven nights, all night long, to help capture the sound of the West wind. There are also many others I haven’t space to thank here.
Here is a tick od “that” time, just a glimpse behind the movies and television, back to when a few tales could show us THE TRUE WEST.
We aren’t sorry for the modern sounds and modern arrangements on classics like I Ride an Old Paint or The Streets of Laredo; after all, they were meant to be heard on twentieth-century record players and transistor radios! For today that same West wind is blowing, although buckboards and saddles are lying out there turning to dust or crumbling from dry rot.
How did I get ready for this album? I followed trails in my Jeep and on foot, and I slept under mesquite bushes and in gullies. | heard the timber wolves, looked for golden nuggets in old creek beds, sat for hours beneath a manzanita bush in an ancient Indian burial ground, breathed the West wind and heard the tales it tells only to those who listen. I replaced a wooden grave marker of some man in the Arizona who “never made it.” I walked across alkali flats where others had walked before me but hadn’t made it. I ate mesquite beans and squeezed the water from a barrel cactus. | was saved once by a forest ranger, lying flat on my face, starving. I learned to throw a bowie knife and kill a jack rabbit at forty yards, not for the sport but because I was hungry. I learned of the true West the hard way–à la 1965.
Yes, it was an obsession, but I learned the ways of the West. It’s still there, and even though the people I sing about are gone, I saw something of what their life was like. Most of it I enjoyed. Some of it was mean as hell. But it’s the same West: it’s wild and hot and unbelievable till you try it on foot. It was the true West.
Here are a few words about some of the narrations and songs, including some definitions of cowboy lingo.
Hiawatha’s Vision. This was inspired by Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha”, in particular, the part called The White Man’s Foot.
The Road to Kaintuck. This is about one of the first main roads leading West that was blazed by Daniel Boone. Others were the Dug Road, the Old Reedy Creek Road, the Road Down Troublesome. The Road to Moccasin Gap runs along Clinch Mountain, through Big Moccasin Gap, near Gate City, Tennessee.
The Shifting, Whispering Sands, Part 1. This one has special meaning for me. I often go to an old, abandoned ranch near Maricopa, California, in my 1946 Jeep. No electricity, no running water, no phone. I sleep in a little shack heated by a wood-burning stove and use candles for light. There are rabbits, deer, badgers, coyotes, squirrels and, once in a while, a bear. I know the 480 acres like the back of my hand. I’ve spent hours walking around the original homesteaders homesites. The buildings are long fallen and crumbling into dust. I found a buckboard that fell apart when I tried to move it. There’s a windmill that sways in the wind. I sat under a manzanita bush one hot day with pen and paper, all set for a song inspiration. I looked around and discovered I was in an Indian burial ground. I sat for three hours, then wrote: “Under the manzanito tree sits a pencil, a piece of paper and me.” To my knowledge, no one else knows of this Indian grave-yard-and I won’t show you where it is. (This is the ranch, incidentally, where Frank Bez photographed the album’s cover picture.) Out there at night, the stars seem twice as bright as anywhere else. You have to “gaze on high at the heavens, where you’re hoping you’ll be going when you die.”
The Ballad of Boot Hill. I walked through Tombstone, Arizona’s Boot Hill Cemetery eight years ago for the first time. The view from Boot Hill across the valleys is beautiful it’s hard to believe that the place saw so much killing. One grave marker reads simply “Hung By Mistake- 1882.”
I Ride an Old Paint. Definitions you might find helpful: Montan Montana: Hooley-ann a roping term for a fast loop over the horse’s head; Coulee-a ravine, a creek bed; Draw a shallow drain for rainful, among other meanings: Dogie* a maverick’s scrubby calf; another meaning, for some cowboys. Is laced shoes.
Hardin Wouldn’t Run. I wrote this after reading the autobiography John Wesley Hardin wrote just before he was killed. Mr. Goddard Lieberson, President of CBS Records. asked me to write something for “The Badmen”* a volume in the CBS Records Legacy Collection he produced not long ago. I was late getting the song in, so we saved it for this album.
John Wesley Hardin, a desperado, married Jane Bowen; the two were on a train headed for Pensacola when Hardin was arrested. He was imprisoned at Huntsville, Texas, for fifteen years. Jane waited faithfully but died just a few months before her husband’s pardon. In prison. Hardin studied law and opened a law office in El Paso° soon after his pardon. Clients were few. Juarez, Mexico, and its women were handy, and booze was plentiful, John Selman, a local constable, shot Hardin in a saloon after Hardin’s Mexican sweetheart had pistol-whipped Selman’s son.
Here are some more definitions that will help you understand the song better: Plow-handle hand the drawing hand; plow-handle is a nickname for the shape of the stock on the Colt single-action Army revolver. (Col. Samuel Colt invented the revolver; his first one was a five-shooter, not a six. He said he got the idea from watching the paddle wheel of the ship he was going to India on in 1835. Skin his gun- a fast draw tap hand the boss or number-one man, an expert: goosehair feather bed: red-eve – whiskey.
Mister Garfield. This song was brought to me by folk singer Jack Elliott, I wrote most of the song’s dialogue. It is eighty years old and to my knowledge has never been recorded. Jack recorded “The Ballad of Charles Guiteau,” about the man who shot President Garfield.
The Streets of Laredo. A British tune, the original is supposed to be about a man who died of syphilis in a London hospital. The second and third verses here (author unknown) are from “Cow. boy Songs by John Lomax, published in 1910.
Johnny Rab. The indirectly the cause Civil War was directly or of thousands upon thousands going West. A surprising fact I uncovered was that both the Northern and the Southern armies used prisoners-of-war to fight Indians. Many more were Killed. Speaking of death in the West, it’s a proven fact that more me led of rattlesnake bite than of bullets, (Don’t tell movie producers.)
A Letter From Home. I asked Mother Maybelle Carter one night to write me a Western song for this album. The next morning she gave me this. Since the Bible on the plains was as uncommon as a letter from home, many cowboys called it that.
Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie. In those days, there simply wasn’t a way to transport a dead man across hundreds of miles of open country. Anyway, after he died, maybe he didn’t mind being buried on the lone prairie.
Sam Hall. I first heard this sung by Tex Ritter. Some people say that the morning Sam Hall was to be hanged, a friend slipped him a bottle. He staggered up the gallows, cursing everyone in the crowd.
Green Grow the Lilacs. Done best in our time by Tex Ritter, this song was written in 1848 by a Texas soldier during the strife with our Mexican neighbors.