Operatic Cowboys: From The Early 30’s - Whe The Cowboy Sings

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Operatic Cowboys: From The Early 30’s

Operatic Cowboys: From the Early 30’s
BACM CD  508

 It’s probably a minor point, but there’s a small inaccuracy in the  sub-title of this CD. The so-called “operatic” cowboys did play a role in launching the genre of the musical B-Western, but the genre didn’t really take shape until the mid-1930’s.  In 1928, Warner Baxter, as the Cisco Kid, became the first cowboy star to sing on screen (singing “My Tonia” in In Old Arizona), but you could see cowboys singing earlier, in the first silent films. Ken Maynard loved music and tried to pick & sing, but his voice was so rustic and hard to listen to, it didn’t have wide appeal. So the musical Western, as a genre, didn’t come along until 1935 when Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire serial introduced a plot that revolved around music, or, perhaps more accurately, the musical sub-plot balanced the film’s action. That characteristic carried over to Autry’s first feature-length film as a star, a few months later.
Douglas Green describes Autry’s voice as having a  “sun-baked” quality, but several of Autry’s earliest competitors, e.g. Dick Foran and Fred Scott, had trained voices, thus the title, “operatic cowboys.” In the context of the music of the day, an “operatic” cowboy was not seen as odd, at least by the film industry. In fact, Dick Foran almost became the silver screen’s first full-fledged singing cowboy! The release of his film, Moonlight on the Prairie, by Warner Bros. on Nov. 1st, 1935, came only a few weeks after Gene Autry’s Republic feature, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, came out in Sept of that year, making Autry’s the first musical B-Western feature film.

The “operatic” cowboys didn’t record much. Foran was more interested in pursuing an acting career than in singing, and only recorded two Western sides for Decca, both of which are found on this new CD. But fortunately, BACM was also able to locate seven songs on Foran’s film soundtracks and one radio transcription (with the Sons of the Pioneers) for this project.  Smith Ballew was far better-known as a singing dance band leader, and only two of his commercial tracks are here.  Fred Scott, whose first film was released in 1936, didn’t make any commercial Western recordings at all.  But he left an abundance of soundtrack material which a film-collector friend transferred to a cassette shortly before Fred’s death in 1991. Seventeen of those tracks are on this 29 track CD.
Some of the songs will be familiar, but one of the strong points of this CD is that it includes rare Western recordings by composers like the teams of M.K. Jerome & Jack Scholl, Johnny Lange & Lew Porter and June Hershey & Don Swander. VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268 or Amazon.com.
O.J Sikes

Track list

 Fred Scott
-Ridin' Down The Trail To Albuquerque
- I've Sold My Saddle For An Old Guitar
- Ridin' Down The Sundown Trail
- I'm Happy In The Saddle
- Leave Your Troubles Behind You
- As Time Goes On
-   I'm Just A Lonesome Cowboy
- Ridin' Over The Range
- The Old Home Range
- Way Up In The  Hills
- In Old Montana
- In Paradise Valley
- Moonlight On The Range
- Saddle Up Your Pony
- Prairie Moon
- My Ten Gallon Hat
- Last Night As I Lay On The Prairie

Dick Foran

-The Prairie Is My Home
- Whisper While You're Waltzing
- Mexicali Rose
- Moonlight Valley
- Private Buckaroo
- Go To Sleep My Little Buckaroo
- Yippy Yi, Yippy Yo
- Oh Genevieve
- My Heart Stood Still
- Thou Swell

Smith Ballew

-Along The Texas Trail
- Hawaiian Memories
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