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Query: Ghost Riders

19 May 97 - 12:29 PM (#5384)
Subject: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Peter Timmerman

After reading "genuine cowboy songs" I as usual am impressed by the high levels of expertise available. This is an easy one, but I was wondering whether "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was original to the "Sons of the Pioneers", who wrote it, etc.? It scared the hell out of me when I was seven. I have the lyrics. Can someone fill me in? Yours, Peter

19 May 97 - 01:23 PM (#5386)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Gene Graham

Hi..contrary to popular belief, Riders in the Sky (the correct title); popularized by both the Sons Of The Pioneers and Vaughn Monroe - was not written by a member of The Sons Of The Pioneers (whom I love dearly). It was written by Stan Jones.

19 May 97 - 01:24 PM (#5387)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Gene Graham

Also, you can find the lyrics/chords at:

19 May 97 - 01:27 PM (#5388)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Les Blank

Before I heard the Sons of the Pioneers or Riders in the Sky do it, back in the 1950's a crossover hit by Vaughn Monroe was hitting the airways. I remember hearing the DJ on WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia, Lee Moore, casting sly innuendos about "big band cowboys".

19 May 97 - 04:06 PM (#5390)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Peter Timmerman

Whew, that was fast. I expected no less from the country gentlemen who grace this site. But it naturally raises who was Stan Jones? Was he a singer? I mean, did he do the first version? I ask these dumb questions because the song seems to have that familiar kind of gospel analogy structure (like the song about the sermon from the pack of cards) which is so widespread. It intrigues me. Yours, Peter

19 May 97 - 06:43 PM (#5398)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders

The following excerpted from "FOR A COWBOY HAS TO SING" by Jim Bob Tinsley.

..Stan Jones and an old cowpoke named "Cap" Watts were out riding one day on the D Hill range in southern Arizona - there was unrest in the air. They began to tie down the blades on a windmill when masses of dark, fast-moving clouds appeared on the horizon forming spectral figures. "Cap" Watts warned prophetically - "Ghost riders".

..Ghost riders are bad omens in the cattle country. They generally appear when fast-moving cold air from one direction collides with warm air from a different direction, a condition that sometimes generates a series of tornadoes. Ominous cloud sillouettes, grouping, regrouping, and backlighted with vellow and sun-red accents, look to the imaginative mind like nothing more than a line of riders racing through the ragged skies. On this day. while helping to secure the windmill from possible wind damage, the youthful Jones heard for the first time the ghostly account of phantom riders in the sky trying to catch the devil's herd. He never forgot the story. And it became the theme for one of the most haunting cowboy songs of all times.

.."Cap" Watts worked at times for the D Hill Ranch near Douglas, Arizona. The Texas-born cowboy operated his own "saddle blanket" outfit in the Perilla Mountains east of Douglas for awhile. The grizzled cowboy died in 1934.

..Stanley Davis Jones was born on 5 June 1914 in Douglas. Arizona. He served his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II and earned a degree in Zoology at the University of California. While working as a park ranger in Death Valley in 1949, Jones acted as a guide for movie location scouts during the filming of "Three Godfathers", starring John Wayne. Harry Carey, Jr. and Pedro Armendariz. He had learned the fundamentals of guitar playing from Arizona cowboys, so it was only natural that he treat the Hollywood group to his own special brand of campfire music. With some reluctance he sang the haunting words to a song he had made up himself from the legend told by "Cap" Watts many years before.

.."Riders In The Sky" changed the life of Stan Jones almost overnight. Later in the year he appeared in the Gene Autry movie, "Riders in The Sky", Which featured his song. He also wrote the theme song and had a role in the 1951 movie "Whirlwind", starring Gene Autry. Songs for the John Ford 1950 production, "Wagonmaster", starring Ben Johnson, were written by Stan Jones and he composed the title song to the John Wayne movie "The Searchers" in 1956. He also wrote compositions for Walt Disney TV and movie films.

..The writer, actor, dreamer and creator of songs died on 13 December 1963 and was buried in his hometown of Douglas. Arizona.

19 May 97 - 08:38 PM (#5408)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Peter Timmerman

Great, unbelievable response, whoever you are! thanks, thanks, Peter

19 May 97 - 08:56 PM (#5409)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Les Blank

I echo Peter's sentiment -- and thank you, whoever you are. However, I think I have a clue -- this posting is typical of a very prolific contributor, not only to this forum, but to several others. Thanks again !! Isn't is nice to open these instead of the tirades authored by another "Unnamed" ?? I had resolved a few days ago not to read anything that wasn't signed. So glad I cheated !!

19 May 97 - 11:19 PM (#5410)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Will

Ah, but is it really folk music? (smile) Just kidding. This is wonderful.

22 May 97 - 08:24 AM (#5526)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Rodney Rawlings

How wonderful to hear the story of how "Riders in the Sky" came to be written.

Interesting how the word "ghost" appeared ghostly-like in parentheses in the title at one point! It's easy to see how that happened, though.

Something similar seems to have happened to "Blue Spanish Eyes" in reverse - "blue" got dropped.

It's the best cowboy song I know (though I admit I don't know many). I agree it's not a folk song quite. Oh, well!

09 May 04 - 05:24 AM (#1181613)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: The Fooles Troupe

This song and Waltzing Matilda have interchangeable sets of words... :-)

09 May 04 - 12:52 PM (#1181660)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Sorcha

When I was about 16 I (and about 30 other people) actually saw the ghost riders.....very, very eeire to say the least.

09 May 04 - 06:05 PM (#1181822)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Art Thieme

I suspect the cowboy song "THE HELL BOUND TRAIN" might've been first and led to, or inspired, the creation of the more pop song. Glenn Ohrlin did a fine rendition of HBT. It was the title song on his LP for Archie Green and the University Of Illinois Folksong Club---around 1962. But it went way back I've always thought.

Does anyone know of any linkage between the two songs?

(I'll take my answer off the air!)


Art Thieme

10 May 04 - 10:41 AM (#1182219)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Sandra in Sydney

at a recent singalong with the theme Spooky Stuff, a singer announced he was going to sing a song about the Wild Hunt, then launched into Ghost Riders - it was fantastic.

It is also fantastic to get the origin of the song.


10 May 04 - 02:40 PM (#1182459)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,Jacqued

And then there is this:


A chicken farmer went out to take a walk one day
He paused by the coop as he walked along his way
All at once a rotten egg hit him in the eye;
It was a sight he dreaded...
Ghost Chickens in the Sky

("Cluck the chorus - sort of - until the last line)
Ghost chickens in the sky

He'd been a chicken farmer since he was twenty-four
Working for the colonel for thirty years or more.
Killing all those chickens and sending them to fry,
And now they want revenge....
Ghost Chickens in the Sky

chorus - get your partner, or audience, to cluck in harmony.

Their beaks were black and shiny, their eyes were fiery red
They had no wings or feathers; these chickens were dead
They picked that farmer up and he died by the claw.
They cooked him extra crispy
And ate him with cole slaw.

It's in the DT but I can't do blue clickies!

But I can! joe-clone

10 May 04 - 04:29 PM (#1182539)
From: Irish sergeant

I wrote words to this tune similar to the above;


The hens were getting restless on a dark and stormy night.
They flapped their wings and clucked out loud in screaming fits of fright
When all at once a stranger came with a forty-ounce bottle of brew,
A rooster cried "you'd better run from the man called Chicken Stu."

CHORUS: Yippee yi ay, yippee yi oh, the legend of Chicken Stu!

A farmer man came calling to the army camp next day.
He said his chickens were missing, or so the man did say.
"I had a big red pullet all fine and fat and new.
She was rustled with the rest of them, by the man called Chicken Stu! CHORUS

The major he was cranky for he didn't get his nap.
He said go find this miscreant and bring his carcass back!
The army regulations are might clear and true,
There'll be no chicken thievery, by the man called Chicken Stu! CHORUS

They caught him in a hen house with a pullet in each hand,
Now Chicken Stu is resting in that Dry Tortugas land.
But on a dark and stormy night the hens they will all brood,
They never can forget the man entitled Chicken Stu! CHORUS AND CHICKEN NOISES.


10 May 04 - 05:31 PM (#1182570)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

The Hell Bound Train appeared in John A. Lomax, Cowboy Songs, in 1910, without notes or music.
It was collected in Missouri in 1911 (see Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, music given). It also appeared in W. H. Fawcett's "Smokehouse Poetry," no date.
In 1938, Lomax and Lomax printed it with music in "Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads" (a note says "Said to have been written by J. W. Pruitte, the Cowboy Preacher; printed in the Fort Gibson Post, 1909").

Glenn Ohrlin got it from his aunt Irene, but doesn't know its source (Glenn Ohrlin, The Hell-Bound Train, 1973, Univ. Illinois Press, p. 36-37 with music.
Fife and Fife, Cowboy and Western Songs, have a version with music from Phyllis Stocks and Evelyn Ward.

All versions slightly different.

11 May 04 - 12:15 AM (#1182751)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Art Thieme

Q---Thanks !

11 May 04 - 12:56 AM (#1182781)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,reggie miles

After hearing my song Shopping Cart Wrangler a new friend shared his song using this popular melody structure. Then he told me of his idea to collect as many of the songs that had been written to this melody as he could, and then produce a recording containing them all. :)

12 May 04 - 12:08 AM (#1183463)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: LadyJean

Somewhere in the dark recesses of S.C.A. SF Fandom there is a song to this tune about a spaceship and a dragon. It ends up with the space ship about to lay an egg. It's very funny. If I can find it, I'll pass it on. If you check out fanpages, and SCA sites, you may be able to find it.

10 Oct 06 - 04:36 AM (#1854693)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,Urbane Guerrilla

Now this rings a faint and blurred bell of some Corries song by this tune -- I don't recall the title they gave it, just some fragments of the lyrics:

"...he was playin' games for money/In the Snakes and Ladders school..."

and a reference at the end of a verse to:

"...the Ballachuilish ferry."

My father in law tells me he once rode that ferry; he says it takes five minutes to make the Ballachuilish run.

10 Oct 06 - 05:29 AM (#1854718)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE PORTREE KID (Bill Hill)
From: eddie1

Urbane Guerrilla
This is the one. Written by Bill Hill who used to be so active in the Edinburgh Folk scene (Think Waverley Bar) but last time I saw him, about 10 years ago, he said his guitar was "under the bed". Pity!

The Portree Kid

Words: J W Hill ( Parody)
Music: Stan Jones

1. A man cam' riding oot the west one wild and stormy day
He was tail, quiet and hungry, his eyes were smokey grey
He was lean across the hurdies, but his shouders they were big
The terror o' the hielan' glens that was the Portree Kid


He drum ho he drum hey
The teuchter that cam' frae Skye

2. His sidekick was an orra' man, and oh but he was mean
He was ca'ad the Midnight Ploughboy, and he cam' frae Aberdeen
He had twenty seven notches on his cromack so they say
And he killed a million indians, way up in Stornoway

3. Portree booted in the door, he sauntered tae the bar
He poured a shot o' Crabbies, he shouted Slainte Mhath (Slangevar)
While Midnight was being chatted up by a bar room girl called Pam
Who said 'Well how-dy stranger, wad' ye buy's a Babycham'

4. Now over in the corner sat three men frae Auchtertool
They were playing games for money, in a snakes and ladder school
The fourth man was a southerner who'd come up from Macmerry
He'd been a river gambler on the Ballachulish Ferry


4. Portree walked tae the table and he shouted 'Shake me in'
He shoogled on the eggcup, he gave the dice a spin
He threw seven sixes in a row and the game was nearly done
But then he landed on a snake, and finished on square one

5. The game was nearly over and Portree was doing fine
He'd landed on a ladder, he was up to forty nine
He only had but one to go and the other man was beat
But the gambler cowped the board over, and shouted 'You're a cheat'

7. Men dived behind the rubber plants, to try and save their skins
The accordionist stopped playing, his sidekick dropped the spoons
He says 'I think its funny, you've been up that ladder twice
And ye ayeways dunt the table, when I go tae throw my dice'


8. The gambler drew his Skian Dubh (Skeandoo), as fast as lightning speed
Portree grabbed a screwtop, he cracked him o'er the heid
Then he gave him laldy, wi' a salmon off the wall
And he finished off the business wi' his lucky grousefoot's claw

9. Portree walked up tae the bar, he says 'I'll hae a half
And d'ye like the way I stuck it on that wee Macmerry nyaff
But the southerner crept up behind. his features wracked wi' pain
And he gubbed him wi' an ashtray, made oot o' a curling stane

10. The fight went raging on all night till opening time next day
Wi' a break for soup and stovies aff a coronation tray
It was getting kind o' obvious. that neither man would win
When came the shout that stopped it all 'There's a bus trip coming in'


11. They sing this song in Galashiels and up by Peterheid
Way down o'er the border. across the Rio Tweed
About what became o Portree, Midnight and the Gambling Man
They opened up a gift shop. selling fresh air in a can



10 Oct 06 - 09:14 AM (#1854837)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: kendall

Reminds me of Tom Paxton's "Yuppies in the sky"

12 Oct 06 - 12:21 AM (#1856493)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Rowan

I'm surprised no 'catters have commented on the tune to "Ghost Riders in the Sky"; apart for a change of time signature and a chorus it's the same (to my ears, at least) as the tune to "When Johnny comes marching home".

And, as Foolestroup has commented, it lends itself to other songs; often I've been known to stir the possum with "The wild colonial boy" sung to "Ghost riders in the sky".

Cheers, Rowan

12 Oct 06 - 05:06 PM (#1857182)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Too much change for my ears to relate Johnny and ghost riders.
Both are useful for parodies, however, and I am surprised more haven't been posted.

12 Oct 06 - 06:46 PM (#1857268)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Jim McLean

Rowan, the comparison to both tunes has already been covered in another thread a while ago. I wrote a song called Ghost Tigers in the Sky in the late 50's and when questioned as to the origins of the tune I referred them to John Anderson My Jo John.

13 Oct 06 - 01:38 AM (#1857516)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Rowan

Sorry Jim, I looked through the threads searching for such discussion before posting such a comment. I couldn't find any, which is why I was surprised.

Cheers, Rowan

26 Jun 08 - 08:58 AM (#2374722)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Mr Happy

26 Jun 08 - 10:04 AM (#2374760)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Amos


Thanks fer the grins. Great song!


26 Jun 08 - 11:16 AM (#2374833)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders

Just came across Vaughn Monroe's version on a 78LP at a yard sale along with some Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter adn gene Autry stuff. I bought the box for $5.
The scariest version of Ghost riders is on YouTube from the FSGW Getaway 2006. Stars Big Mick Lane, Chance Shiver and a cast of thousands.

26 Jun 08 - 03:42 PM (#2375038)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,buspassed

A couple of weeks ago BBC4 ran a 'Western Weekend' One of the flms featured was 'Wagonmaster' and Stan Jones wrote all the songs featured in it. I'd forgotten what a great film it was and it was later to become the basis for the TV series 'Wagon Train' which was a huge success in the UK.

26 Jun 08 - 07:27 PM (#2375194)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Leadfingers

Stan Freburg - All we hear is 'Ghost Riders' sung by Vaughan Monroe = I could do without his singing , but I wish I had his dough !

26 Jun 08 - 07:51 PM (#2375204)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: Joe_F

Back in the '50s, if you wished to annoy a (U.S.) marine, you could sing the Marines' Hymn to that tune. Chorus:

Gung ho, gung ho!
The United States Marines.

26 Jun 08 - 08:04 PM (#2375210)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders

Someone has even turned it into Irish, as 'Marcaigh Thaibhsiœla sa SpŽir.'

27 Jun 08 - 09:08 AM (#2375505)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,HiLo

Did Frankie Lane not do a version of this in the late fifties.My parsonal favourite is by Mary MacCaslin.

20 Jun 13 - 10:44 PM (#3528504)
Subject: RE: Query: Ghost Riders
From: GUEST,60sMarine

During the late 60s we used to sing a Marine themed song to Ghost Riders in the Sky.. I am trying to find the lyrics can anyone help?