Hi all, I haven't had much time to check in lately but wanted to let you know of a project I've been working on. Adios, Rex
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HISTORIC COWBOY SONGS TO RIDE THE RANGE
This month in a recording studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado, music historians Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout will record for a forthcoming CD and book some of the very first cowboy songs ever published. In a project sponsored by the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, Gardner and Rideout are performing 17 songs and poems collected and written by famed ballad hunter Nathan H. "Jack" Thorp in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thorp published the very first book of cowboy songs at Estancia, New Mexico, in 1908. A working cowboy and rancher himself, Thorp titled his small paperback book Songs of the Cowboys, and he sold copies out of his saddlebags for fifty cents apiece. An original copy of Thorp's book now brings over $2000.00 in the rare book market. Thorp also wrote one of the most performed cowboy song of all time: "Little Joe, the Wrangler." The song tells the story of a young cowboy who is trampled to death in a cattle stampede.
"This project is a tribute to Thorp's immense contributions to cowboy music as well as the history and culture of New Mexico," Gardner said. "Thorp was the first individual to realize the importance of this very American music, and he set out on his own hook to gather as much of it as he could. His ballad-hunting travels took him through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming." Thorp later wrote of his collecting adventures in an article titled "Banjo in the Cow Camps," published in 1940 in Atlantic Monthly. "That article alone is extremely valuable for scholars of cowboy music," Gardner said. "Thorp tells us that the cowboy songs he heard were always sung by one person, not by a group, which means none of those Sons of the Pioneers harmonies that Thorp was hearing in the 1930s." "In fact," Gardner added, "Thorp claimed that he never heard a cowboy with a real good voice; they had probably lost their voices 'bawling at cattle, or sleeping out in the open.'"
Gardner and Rideout are using Thorp's recollections as a guide for their recording sessions – with the exception of the poor voices, of course. There will only be a single voice on each song, Gardner said. And the instrumentation will be sparse. Gardner and Rideout are approaching the recording sessions as "living historians," even to the point of using vintage instruments and playing styles. And they are using the same type of banjo Thorp is known to have carried on his packhorse. "Today Thorp's instrument is called a piccolo banjo; it's really a miniature 5-string banjo that's tuned an octave higher than the standard banjo. It was designed to be played in banjo orchestras of the late 19th-century, but Thorp found its small size real handy for his horseback tramps across the Southwest."
Gardner and Rideout's CD will be included in a special publication titled Jack Thorp's Songs of the Cowboys, to be issued by the Palace Press (the Palace Press owns a historic printing press from Estancia, New Mexico, that may have printed Thorp's 1908 songbook). Each song or poem in the book will be accompanied by an illustration by renowned New Mexico cowboy artist Ron Kil, while Gardner is writing a scholarly introduction to the volume. The first printing, scheduled for next year, will be limited to only 100 copies. A trade edition will follow.
For more information on the Jack Thorp project, contact Curator of the Press Tom Leech at the Palace Press at 505-476-5096, or e-mail him at email@example.com. Or go to the web site SONGOFTHEWEST.com.
Press Inquiries: Mark L. Gardner