Monday, October 31, 2011

Music On Monday: Monster's Holiday

Dang! It has been a rough month, coming off a super-rough summer. Glad (hope) that's all over. Here's a Halloween hit to ring out the month -- Buck Owens' "Monster's Holiday":

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Cindy Ellen, A Wild Western Cinderella

Written by Susan Lowell and illustrating by Jane Manning, this is a really clever retelling of Cinderella -- I often find fairy tale interpretations too gimmicky, but this one read wonderfully. And the art is fantastic! The Little Cowgirl still enjoys picture books and she said she liked this one a lot. I did too. Cindy Ellen is the best cowgirl in the area, but her nasty stepmother and stepsisters don't let her do anything but the dirtiest chores around their ranch. It takes her fairy godmother to give her some gumption -- and then she doesn't just go to a square dance/ ball, she actually competes in a rodeo! (Pretty sure that was my kid's favorite part.) Good enough that I'd be interested in Lowell's other western fairy tale retellings -- although those books unfortunately are not illustrated by Jane Manning. I think the art is at least half the charm of this book, so I don't know if we'd like the others nearly so much.
Check it out on Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Holding the Reins

The Little Cowgirl was especially interested in this book -- it follows the lives of 4 modern-day teenaged cowgirls throughout the year: KaDee of Utah & Colorado in summer; Sarah of Montana in fall; Katy of Wyoming in winter and Leslie of new Mexico in Spring. I found it a really fascinating book -- you can find plenty of books and blogs about real-life adults on ranches, but not too much on the younger set. Unfortunately, while it's marked as suitable for elementary school, it ended up being a bit too graphic for a 6-year-old. I think she was also a bit bored with the mundane details of high-school life. Definitely better for older kids, but an interesting read for anyone.

Check it out on Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Yippee-Yay!

Okay, first off, I just have to get something off my chest here.

Dear World, can we please call for a moratorium on the use of Giddyup? I grant you, it's a pretty cute font, and when it came out almost ten years ago there weren't a lot of choices. But now it is everywhere. Everywhere. Seriously, it's like the comic sans of western fonts. Just. Stop. Thank you.

Okay, I feel better now. This is a pretty nicely done non-fiction picture book, mostly covering the history of the Old West. Lots of information on gear, clothing, cattle drives and so on, presented in a cartoony fashion. The Little Cowgirl didn't like it much though, because while it claims to be a book about cowboys and cowgirls, actually, the first page tells you that there were very few women on the frontier and only a handful of cowgirls, and then we get zero cowgirls until the last two pages of the book, which is the brief "modern times" section. I would still recommend it to any kid interested in the subject -- just as long as they're not a persnickety little cowgirl!

Check it out on Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Music On Monday: the Little Cowgirl's Top 5

Funny enough, the Little Cowgirl's all-time top 5 songs so far (she's 6-1/2, though, so this could change) all qualify for posting on this blog! So I decided to immortalize her (current) top 5 for posterity.

Her very first favorite song was "Fujiyama Mama" as performed by Wanda Jackson. Wanda was the first singer/band she asked about and knew by name (although she called her "Wonder Jackson" for a long time) by the age of...I'm thinking 2-1/2? I have to admit, I was a proud mama the day at her playgym when the 3-year-olds were asked to name their favorite song, and in the middle of all the "Wheels on the Bus" and "Twinkle Twinkle" answers my kid busted out with "FUJIYAMA MAMA!!!"

Wanda Jackson remained her favorite singer until shortly after her 5th birthday, when she fell hard for Rose Maddox (she prefers her with the Maddox Brothers, but it's really Rose she cares about). Rose slowly pushed Wanda aside and for a long time her #1 song was "No More Time", by the Bros. & Rose, from 1955:

Then she actually forgot about the girls a bit and went Bob Wills crazy! (Keep in mind she loves all this stuff to this day, and she adores Bob Wills "and the TEXAS PLAYBOYS!" All of these songs have remained in her top 10 at least.) When it happened I'm not exactly sure, but her #1 song became "Take Me Back To Tulsa". We have a few versions of it, mainly earlier recordings with Tommy Duncan singing, but here's a much later live clip that we like a lot too:

But then Rose got back into the fight with a decidedly rockabilly track from the mid-50s, "Stop Whistlin' Wolf". She loves this one and from week to week changes her mind which is #1, this or "Tulsa":

But wait, that's just 4 songs! There's another song that has never really been #1, but definitely has filled out her top 5 since early last year, and that's the Flatt and Scruggs hit "Pearl, Pearl, Pearl". Might not really fit the Western theme, but it was featured on Beverly Hillbillies....and that took place in California so...I call it good. Ahem. Enjoy:

And just in case you're wondering, how do I know what her #1 songs are? Well, for one thing, she tells me. For another, she plays them over and over when they come up on the stereo or ipod. And finally, because when she was younger she would run around in circles while singing the lyrics. For what seemed like hours. Thank goodness it never was "Wheels on the Bus"!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Utah? Got a cowboy rec room? You need this!

This amazing 50s Western-themed bar is up for sale right now (listing here, $350). It's in perfect shape, and is seriously amazing. See for yourself- here it is in all its basement-installed glory:

 And check out that floor! Sadly, the fish is already gone.

Here's a better look at the front:

Amazing nailhead designs in the vinyl bar front.

And just look at this formica!

I'm just stunned by this. Never seen this pattern before in my life.

If  that formica was actually available, this could be copied pretty easily. But it's not, sadly enough. But if you are close enough to drive a truck over it can be yours!

(spotted on

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music On Monday Song Special: The "Oakie Boogie"

"Oakie Boogie" is a classic track, maybe Western Swing, maybe Hillbilly Boogie, maybe proto-rockabilly, but definitely awesome. We generally like every version we've heard! It was first released in 1947 by both the writer, Johnny Tyler and also by Jack "Oke" Guthrie (Woody's cousin) -- Guthrie's version was a bona-fide hit and is considered a candidate for "first rock-and-roll record". And it probably is the best version to this day - just listen:

It's been recorded countless times and with all sort of interpretations. Another hit version was the Nelson Riddle arrangement of the song into a pop version for Ella Mae Morse as the "Okie Boogie":

I do like that version, but it's a bit on the smooth side! Our house favorites, Maddox Brothers and Rose also recorded their version, but to make things even better, they also recorded an answer song variation called the "Mean and Wicked Boogie"!

The list of cover version is endless, but feel free to start checking them out! Of special note, the Ted Heath big band version (almost seems like a parody); Hank Swatley's 50s rockabilly version; and this great live version from Mimi Roman.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Music On Monday: Girls of the Golden West

Dolly and Millie Good were sisters from a farm in Illinois, but they reinvented themselves as cowgirls from Muleshoe Texas and became the Girls of the Golden West in the early 1930s -- naming themselves after the Puccini opera. Very popular through the 30s and into the 40s, they cut a ton of sides for 5 different labels, yet no-one seems to have collected much of their output in modern times. Perhaps that's because their stuff is pretty mellow - it's just the two of them and a single guitar, so even for cowboy music of the time it's a bit stripped down. Plus they sing ballads. But every so often they get a bit goofy with songs like "Cross Eyed Beau":

They also sing about wanting to be real cowgirls (rather than cowboy's sweethearts):

And while you can't find them on too many compilations, you can find a small collection of tracks at the internet archive, ready to download! To read more about the Good sisters (and to see a full track listing), go here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music On Monday: The Gun Club

Fire of Love

You'll find The Gun Club on the 80s cowpunk lists, but I think they shade a bit more country than a lot of the other (more western) bands they were associated with -- in fact, some people apparently consider them the first alt-country band. (Not that I think any band is the "first" of anything, really, but okay. They're also called "punk blues" and "tribal psychobilly blues" and "early roots rock" so, you know, whatever.)

Their history and line-up is pretty convoluted; founder and singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce was about the only constant as various musicians (including Kid Congo Powers of the Cramps, Patricia Morrison of Sisters of Mercy and Debbie Harry on backup vocals) and celebrity producers (Chris Stein of Blondie, Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins) came and went. The band formed in 1980 (when Blondie fan club chapter president Pierce met Ramones fan club chapter president Powers!) and continued in one form or another until Pierce's death in 1996. (Read the whole saga here.)

While they are pretty consistently interesting all the way through their run, I have a personal fondness for the earliest recordings. Here's a track off the first album, Fire of Love -- "Ghost on the Highway":

And from Miami, "Mother of Earth":

That is just scratching the surface - you could probably cruise YouTube and listen to them for a week! And if you still have some free time left, there's a great set of interviews with Kid Congo Powers online here (especially if you're a Cramps fan). Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music On Monday: Dick Stratton & the Nite Owls

Nashville, Vol. 1: Boogie Woogie Tennessee
Here's a song I can't tell you anything about, really. But we got it on a comp and fell for it hard -- it's Dick Stratton and the Nite Owls doing "Pistol Boogie", and is my favorite version of that song. It was put out by Tennnessee Records, a country/western indie label in Nashville that existed from 1950-1952. I would say it falls into that area where western swing was sliding through bop and boogie into rockabilly. I cannot find out a thing about Dick Stratton, although he is described as a "prolific record cutter in Nashville", but The Nite Owls were apparently Tennessee Records' house band and are a cover name for whatever Nashville area musicians were in the studio that session. They recorded several tracks with Dick Stratton and others (several of which are on the comp above, but not "Pistol Boogie", unfortunately!). Enjoy:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Music On Monday: Happy 4th!

Not patriotic or really even all that upbeat, but still....Dave Alvin's take on the 4th:

X recorded this song as well while he was their guitarist, and I realize that's the much better known version. But I really like this one as well, and I love this video for capturing the 4th in such a realistic way.

Also, if you're cooking out today, it's too late to make these for this year, but next year how about trying cowboy beans! (Find an alternate, much easier recipe here) Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Singing Cowboys on TCM!

Almost forgot to mention, starting tonight and running throughout the month of July, TCM will be showing a tribute to singing cowboys. Almost makes me wish I had cable! (Especially to see a decent print of a Herb Jeffries film.) Presumably the usual extra sides from TCM will be present as well, but no idea what. If you've got cable, check it out!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Little Cowgirl Book Club: Ranch (a seek-and-find)

This is a pretty cute seek-and-find type book that takes place on all the different areas of a working (modern) ranch. Each page (or two-page spread) shows a section of the ranch (barn, cookhouse, etc), describes it briefly then gives you a long list of things to find. The depth of detail is impressive, and we had fun finding everything (3 chaps! 7 cowboy hats! 2 coyotes!) but we ran into a few problems - the biggest one being that the binding process obscured a few of the items we were supposed to be finding (too much glue -- about 3/4" was just gone from the center of one illustration) and the art style made a few things hard to identify. Luckily, the keys in the back let us figure out where the missing things were. Fun to go through once, but I don't know how many kids would want to read through it more than that. And definitely for the younger kids. Worth a library visit for sure, though!

Check it out on Amazon; or find it at your local library!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Music On Monday: Blood On the Saddle

New Blood

Another of the 80s LA cowpunk bands, Blood on the Saddle was formed by guitar player and vocalist Greg Davis who said that because he liked punk, but he wasn't a punk, he tried to come up with a sound that combined all the things he liked. In the process, he formed what was probably one of the key cowpunk bands of the era, performing covers of songs like "Blood on the Saddle" (you're surprised, right?), "Ring of Fire" and "Wish I Was A Single Girl Again" along with the band's originals.

He added then-girlfriend Annette Zilinskas as vocalist before they recorded their first album (she is unfortunately better known for being an early bass player in the Bangles). They harmonized much in the same way that Exene and John Doe of X do (not surprising since their first date was at an X show!), but also, as Davis pointed out in an interview, the way that Johnny Cash and June Carter did. Unfortunately they only lasted a few years in this incarnation but they left behind a lot of great songs. Here's a live performance of one of my favorites, "Poison Love"

And here's an actual video for the song "Promise Your Heart to Me" -- well, it's one of those "let's lip-synch in the bed of a truck while driving around the city" videos, but still fun to see:

Someone, presumably connected with the band (or maybe just a fan) has set up a Blood On the Saddle YouTube channel -- these two videos can be found there as well as several rare live appearances and a 10-minute interview about the band with Greg David and Annette Zilinskas. If you enjoyed these two clips, definitely head on over and listen to more!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gene Autry: The Sagebrush Troubadour (1935)

The Gene Autry Collection: The Sagebrush Troubadour

"Gene Autry's Vagabond Troubadors" (that would be Gene, Frog and a donkey loaded with instruments) are yodeling through the sagebrush when they reveal that they have evidence that will hang somebody....and it's their job to track that man down! (The evidence is a broken-down swaybacked horse...and a guitar string.) Why, they're not wandering troubadors at all!  They're Rangers, sent out to solve the murder of "old" Frank Martin.

On their way to the Martin ranch, they're forced off the road by a coach being driven recklessly by a young lady; Gene jumps aboard, pulls the wagon to a stop and then gives the young lady a paddling!

This is what you get when you are reckless with good horses.

But it seems he's made a bit of a faux pas when they discover the young lady is Joan Martin, the granddaughter of the murder victim (she's returning to the area after being back East for a long time, apparently since she was a young girl). As Smiley says, "That just proves that you shouldn't spank girls before you're introduced to 'em."

In town, Joan is practically barraged by men -- her uncle John, greets her, old friend Lon Dillon declares his intention to start courting her, and then she's whisked off to see lawyer Nolan. He tells her that her grandfather had secrets, which he was murdered for. He then reads the will and John, who was the foster son of Frank Martin, is shocked to learn that he gets just $5,000 while Joan gets the rest of the estate, including the ranch. However! If she dies, John gets everything. And if she and John die? Lawyer Nolan gets everything! Intrigue ahoy!

Meanwhile, Gene and Frog have caught up and gotten into town, where they immediately begin to get offers for the swayback horse...because everyone believes that Frank Martin discovered gold on his ranch and that the horse can lead them to it. (Don't forget the guitar string, though -- because somewhere there is a guitar missing a string and clearly, it will lead to the murderer!) They turn everyone down, which results in Uncle John telling Joan that he insists she throw a dance party and hire Gene and Frog as musicians for it. She thinks this is not super-appropriate, considering that her grandfather was just murdered, but Uncle John insists, claiming that Gene is the murder suspect. (Because he plays the guitar, and somehow everyone knows that old man Martin was killed with a guitar string, even though Gene has it in his pocket!) She asks them, and they agree to follow them to the ranch right away and perform that night.

A weird bit of business follows - someone is shown loosening the wheel of the wagon that Joan is sitting on, and all we see is a male hand and jacket sleeve. It can't be the lawyer, he's by his office. It can't be John's henchman Pablo, he's on the other side of the wagon and is wearing something totally different. It's not Gene or Frog, obviously, and it's neither the "boyfriend" nor the stable owner. And Uncle John's sleeve is different as well. Who can it be? Pablo appears to know what's about to happen, he looks at the wheel as it loosens and jumps from the wagon before it comes off. And when Gene rescues Joan, he takes a shot at the two of them. (Which Uncle John and Lawyer Nolan seem to find funny.) My guess is that you're supposed to think it's Pablo, but when you attempt intrigue in a low-budget film with sloppy continuity sometimes you raise more questions than you mean to!

 Gene serenades Joan while she....hides behind that tree branch?

Gene tells everyone he's locking the horse in the barn (to see who makes the first move), but he actually rides off with it to find out just where it does go. When he gets back, all the men trying to get to the mine have joined forces and have called the sheriff and accused him of the murder. He pulls a nifty bit of business to rescue Frog and they ride off to try and figure out how to sneak back into the party that night. Luckily, Lon Dillon and Hank the stable owner (part of the new partnership) are drafted into playing for the dance, and they happen to be just Gene and Frog's sizes! Gene and Frog take their places during a helpful distraction number, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (song by a little boy in a monkey suit, seated on an organ grinder's music box!) so they can keep an eye on Joan.

Got 'em! Now to steal their clothes!

 Luckily, this insanely cute number was going on , so no-one noticed.

When he sees someone sneaking around, Gene reveals his identity to Joan, then asks to dance with her so he can explain what's going on - seems that because old man Martin was practically blind, he needed the horse to know the way to the valuable gold mine he discovered; and now anyone that gets the horse can follow it to the mine, which has not yet been registered. She actually responds with the line, "Grandad depended so on that wise, old horse...."

It's hat versus hat on the dance floor!

Lawyer Nolan correctly observes "Hmm, I never saw Lon dance like that before!" Joan goes out for some fresh air and gets attacked by....well, once again the low budget makes this confusing, but I think you're supposed to think it's her Uncle John. Gene rescues her from the attempted strangulation (of course), but then needs rescuing himself -- when he goes back inside he's asked to sing and, well, Lon never sang like that before either!

An adoring Joan has mysteriously lost her strangulation marks and gained a huge bruise on her arm.

Then the party is told to unmask; and then Hank and Lon show up and point them out. Yes, their identities are revealed three times, just in case you missed a reveal, I suppose. A guitar is smashed over Uncle John's head and Gene and Frog take off with the posse in hot pursuit, Uncle John and Pablo following the swayback horse to the mine, and Joan locked in the barn. Gene heads back to get evidence from the ranch and releases Joan but tells her to stay put. But remember that she drives wagons like a crazy person? So she follows him and lots of action ensues as everyone heads to the mine for a classic "now that we're all locked in here I'll tell you that one of you is....the...murderer!" moments.

 "The killer is among us! And no-one is allowed to crack a smile at my outfit!"

Gene reveals to our assembled suspects that he's a Ranger, assigned to the murder case - and that his fellow Ranger Frog is...a fingerprint expert! (He seems to actually have a little trouble getting that tidbit of news out). And not only that, but the murder weapon/guitar string shows signs of being played....with a pick! And this conclusively reveals that the murderer is...."You'll never take me alive!" shouts the murderer, attacking Gene and totally falling for Gene's bluff. The ensuing fisticuffs reveal the entrance to the actual gold mine, and the remaining suspects begin to fight over who will get to town first to register the claim. As the culprit is arrested, the rest of the gang races off to town to try and get the mine -- but the last laugh will be on them, as Gene has had the mine registered in Joan's name already!

Happy ending all around, as Ranger Gene proposes to Joan in song and she accepts. Gene kisses Joan, Frog kisses the swayback horse, and we fade out.

 Gene proposes in song....

Joan accepts! And Gene gets his first screen kiss!

And so does the swayback horse.

More than one source (including Gene himself) claims that he only had one screen kiss, and that it was with Ann Rutherford. But no, this is his first kiss, and he definitely had more than one.

You may be wondering if the reveal of the murderer's identity clears up the previous confusion cause by sloppy continuity....well the answer is no. I still could not figure out who on earth was supposed to have actually loosened that wagon wheel or attacked Joan. Presumably the villain had at least one confederate/henchman, but the movie doesn't bother to clear that up.

Barbara Pepper plays Joan Martin with a sort of low-rent Jean Harlow vibe, I thought she was okay here, but only okay. She is replaced with a double in a good bit of the movie, so that doesn't help. Her story is a sad one, she never really succeeded in films despite a bright start as a Follies Girl and favored ingenue. She had a less-than happy personal life and ends up running a laundromat by the 1950s. She did end up with one last major role - Doris Ziffel on Green Acres. The transformation from deco starlet to ravaged tv "hillbilly housewife" tells you all you need to know about how her life went, really.

She was truly stunning, wasn't she?

The cute kid in the monkey suit is Tommy Gene Fairey, who sings a song written by Smiley Burnette. He was a 4-year old from Texas who made just this one film and then went back home. He didn't vanish though, and he had a very good life! I always wonder what happened to kids who pop up in just a film or two, but in this case I actually know - I've recently exchanged emails with Mr. Fairey and I hope he'll let me post some of the amazing photos he has of his days on set and after!

Difficult moments: there is an offhand remark (by bad guy Hank the stable owner) that "the boys killed a chinaman the other day" but no more is said about it. And at the party, if you look closely (I didn't even see it the first time - he's always in the background and the scene is a little murky) one of the guests is in costume as Jolson. In blackface. Both of these moments are brief and went completely over the kid's head, but they did make us wince.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Music on Monday: Ann Jones and her Western Sweethearts


Ann Jones was a very popular (and prolific) Western vocalist (called the "Kate Smith of the West"!) who had a long career as a singer, bandleader and radio host - and apparently was a WWII-era softball star as well, returning to music in 1947. In the early 50s she formed an all-girl Western Swing band, her "Western Sweethearts" and toured with them through many lineup changes into the 1970s, releasing a few albums along the way. One reference says the band formed in 1955, but they were touring by July of 1954, as you can see by this ad which ran in Washington state on July 22nd of that year:

There is a CD available of her work, including this track which I would have been my theme song if I'd known it when I was babysitting age:

And here's something for the grownups:

To be honest, I'm not sure if any of her "Western Sweethearts" are actually on these tracks; they are recorded from 1949-1954 and she was a solo act for several of those years; additionally, she apparently used studio guys when making records. The Sweethearts may have been a touring band only at this time. But whether or not the musicians on these recordings are wearing heart-motif cowgirl outfits, they are still worth a listen!

A note: I had to take an internet break due to the loss of our eldest cat this past week; this post was the only one I'd pre-written and scheduled before everything happened. I'll be back before next Monday, I promise!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Music On Monday: Wall of Voodoo

Dark Continent / Call of the West

The Stan Ridgway era Wall of Voodoo was an amazing band, which unfortunately is remembered by most people as a one-hit-wonder for the (semi) hit "Mexican Radio", which, well, okay, let's just get this over with:

You know it, everyone knows it, and truth be told it's pretty great. But MTV played it to death and it has totally overshadowed the rest of their work. Not that there's all that much of it - just two album's worth before the band broke up in 1983 (although two members immediately re-formed with a different line-up and continued to work under the name Wall of Voodoo*). A favorite track of mine was their cover of "Ring of Fire" -- I still have the 7"! You can hear the shortened single version here, but here's a great live version of the whole thing -- warning, the full version can make some people go crazy. Bail out anytime after about 3:15 if it's getting on your nerves.

Finally, what was probably my favorite song of theirs, "Call of the West". For me, this song totally sums up everything about Wall of Voodoo that I loved, the creepiness, the Morricone influence, the not-exactly-nostalgic feel for the West, and of course, Stan Ridgway's weird narration/vocal style.

Just about everyone in the band did lots more after they broke up (for the first time) in 1983, but I don't know that anything ever lived up to this handful of recordings that they made.

A funny bit of trivia: according to legend (i.e. Wikipedia), the band got their name when Stan Ridgway was playing some tracks for a friend (Joe Berardi of The Fibonaccis). Stan joked that the music had so many layers of organ and drum-machine it was like a "wall of sound", and Berardi countered that it sounded more like a "wall of voodoo". Stan, being no dummy, obviously realized that was a brilliant name and used it for the band. The funny part? The drum machine was a gift from voice actor Daws Butler. I say, "?!?"

*Personally, I was never a fan of of Wall of Voodoo 2.0 -- I know there are people who feel the exact opposite though, so feel free to check them out. Marc Moreland, the guitarist, was in both versions, and he was fantastic. So I thought maybe I should give them another chance, and I checked out their hit. Nope, still don't like them...but you may feel different!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sew Western! McCall 1332 comes around again!

Amazingly, I found another vintage example of McCall 1332! This version has been made up in a less-flashy color combo than the first one I found, but the maker went the whole nine yards and did all the embroidery: front yoke, back yoke, collar and cuffs.

Something about the embroidery and some weirdness around the piping make me think this one was made up by a different person. But who knows. I love seeing these patterns as they were originally made up - I'm so glad a few have survived!

Big thanks to Mark of  Dead 'n Gone Vintage (Firefly Vintage on ebay) for letting me use his images!

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