For years I've been fascinated by a song that I just always assumed was an Old
West cowboy song, the song that might be sung out on the range, or by Miss
Kitty's prettiest showgirls at the Long Branch Saloon.
I always assumed there was something going on beneath the lyrics about dancing
with the girl with the hole in her stocking. Something spooky and mystical and
Recently while reading about "Buffalo Gals" on the Library of Congress
Folklife Todayblog, a commenter named Joe Ward described exactly what I thought the song was
It may have been a cleaned up account, but when I was a child in Texas I
was told that it was based on an old cowboy legend that on moonlit nights on
the prairie, sometimes the spirits of sleeping buffalo would emerge in the
form of beautiful young girls and dance in the moonlight.
I imagined it as an invocation, with the horny old cowpoke singing it trying to
conjure up his own buffalo gal, who I'm sure would snort, kick up a lot of dust
and, uh, dance by the light of the moon. But there's good evidence that "Buffalo Gals" didn't start out as a cowboy
song. And that article in Folklife Today, written by
Stephanie Hall suggests that originally the Buffalo gals might have just been girls from
"Buffalo Girls" became the title of a 1990 Larry McMurtry novel about
... the origin of this song is often given as having been composed by the
minstrel show performer John Hodges under his stage name “Cool White” in
1844. The lyrics are somewhat different, as shown by the title: “Lubly Fan
Will You Cum Out To Night?” [sic] (Lubly Fan is Lovely Fanny). It is an
early example of a song sung by a white man who performed in black face
using a mock African American dialect. Just one year later another white
group who performed in black face, The Ethiopian Serenaders, published sheet
music for “Philadelphia Gals,” (1845) with similar lyrics and no attribution
for a composer or lyricist. ... The Ethiopian Serenaders published another version, “Buffalo Gals”
(presumably for Buffalo, New York), also unattributed. This is the first
sheet music version of the song as it is most familiar to us today.
Hall, however, raises the possibility that the song could have existed long
before it was published.
"Folk songs and minstrel show songs were often in oral circulation long
before they appeared in published form, so first publication is not
necessarily a reliable indication of a song’s age or the composer. It was
not uncommon for the person who first transcribed a song to claim
authorship, especially in the nineteenth century. ... Versions of the song
may even have existed in oral tradition before “Lubly Fan” or “Buffalo Gals”
appeared on minstrel stages.
Hall found what might be a version of the song in the guise of a fiddle song
found in Virginia and West Virginia called "Round Town Gals" circa 1839. You can
find a version of that
After the song was published in the mid 1840s, it began to travel around the
country. Sometimes the title would be changed to match the locale in which it
was being played. But "Buffalo Gals" began to stick.
"Who are those buffalo gals?" Hall wrote. "The bison is a symbol of America,
especially the American west. As the song takes on new life, the `gals' may be
women of the west, pioneers, cowgirls, or perhaps fancy women."
Or maybe even the spirits of wild animals who take human form to dance by the
light of the moon.
Below are some worthy versions of "Buffalo Gals."
Woody Guthrie was not the first to record it, but he captured the spirit. His
"Buffalo Gals is a drunken square dance.
Springsteen put some rock 'n' roll in it.
Former Santa Fe resident Eliza Gilkyson played with the lyrics and made it her
And, of course, Malcolm McLaren went crazy with it.
OK, the Republican National Convention last week and the Democratic National Convention this week got me scouring YouTube for weird old campaign songs. But late Tuesday night, my brother Jack turned me on this guy's version of a real 1960 campaign song for Richard Nixon.
Brian Dewan is an artist, musician and furniture maker -- and apparently a fan of strange campaign songs -- from Catskill, N.Y.
Don't ask me when these songs were recorded. They were uploaded on YouTube in 2006, but other than that I can't find a clue.
Here's his version of that Nixon tune.
This stirring ode to Jimmy Carter actually was a song-poem. I posted the original version by Gene Marshall HERElast year.
And this one was ripped from the pages of Mad Magazine circa 1972.
Hopefully Dewan will be covering this song, which has been floating around the Internet the last few days.
Rat on! Here is the the July episode of The Big Enchilada Podcast, a rodent-infested sewer of sounds featuring Barrence Whitfield, The Fleshtones, The Gories, Bloodshot Bill, King Salami and Jack Oblivian, plus new tunes by The Nots and Ty Segal's new band GØGGS. You’re in the rat place at the rat time.
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican July 22, 2016
Left Lane Cruiser's Skiddley Bow
Decades ago Muddy Waters proclaimed, “The blues had a baby and they named it rock ’n’ roll.” I wonder if Muddy knew that well into the 21st century, the bastard offspring of that unholy union would keep coming.
What follows are recent releases from blues-rock bands that could be classified as “punk blues,” though let’s not get too hung up on labels.
Unlike the blues rockers of the 1960s and ’70s, who worshipped at the altar of Chicago blues stars like Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson, these newer groups are more influenced by the primitive Mississippi Hill Country Fat Possum Records roster of the early to mid-’90s (R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, Paul “Wine” Jones).
In fact, a friend of mine who caught Lonesome Shack at the Mine Shaft Tavern told me they’re the closest thing to the late Junior Kimbrough he’s heard in years.
* The Switcher by Lonesome Shack. This trio is based in Seattle, but their roots are in New Mexico.
Singer/guitarist Ben Todd spent part of his youth in Silver City and Albuquerque. His mom still lives in Deming. In the early part of this century, he and his girlfriend moved to a trailer in a remote part of Catron County, near Alma, N.M. Todd built a little shed he dubbed “Lonesome Shack” (after a Memphis Minnie song), where he could practice guitar and write songs without driving his girlfriend nuts.
Todd wrote all the songs here except an old gospel shouter called “Safety Zone” (best known in recent years for its version by The Fairfield Four). With Todd’s guitar and vocals out front, Lonesome Shack can get rough and rowdy on songs like “Diamond Man,” “Mushin’ Dog,” and “Chemicals.” But they aren’t as hard-driving as many of their punk blues peers. Lonesome Shack is a little more subtle on slow burners like the spooky “Dirty Traveler” and the almost noirish “Blood.”
* Sin, You Sinners! by The Devils. This is an Italian duo — guitar man Gianni Vessella and singer/drummer Erica Toraldo — that plays a hopped-up, explosive, hellfire version of the blues that owes more to crazed punk rock than it does to Hound Dog Taylor. Naming themselves after a classic 1971 Ken Russell movie about a priest who is executed for witchcraft, The Devils perform dressed as a priest and a nun and play songs with titles like “Coitus Interruptus (From a Priest)” — check YouTube for the wild and wonderful video of this one — “Shaking Satan’s Balls,” “Hell’s Gate,” and “Azazel.” No wonder they caught the attention of Reverend Beat-Man of Voodoo Rhythm Records. I believe they attend the same church.
The Devils are relentless. One song is more thunderous than the last. Currently my favorites are “Magic Sam” (I’m assuming this is a tribute to the late Chicago bluesman, who died of a heart attack in 1969 at the age of thirty-two) and, even though it’s barely more than a minute long, “Puppy Nun,” a joyful little rager that opens the album. All in all, Sin, You Sinners! is a blasphemous blast.
* Beck in Black by Left Lane Cruiser. LLC is a leading light of contemporary punk blues, with Freddy “Joe” Evans IV on slide guitar and vocals and, up to a couple of years ago, Brenn “Sausage Paw” Beck on drums. (When I saw them in Austin in 2014, they also had a bass player who made wild noises on a crazy homemade electric instrument fashioned from an old skateboard and a beer bottle.)
This is a strange odds-and-sods album of songs selected by Beck. It’s mostly remastered tracks from the band’s earlier albums, although six of the 14 songs have never been released before.
Among these are “The Pusher,” an anti-hard-drug anthem written by Hoyt Axton and made famous by Steppenwolf back in the late ’60s. Despite being a Steppenwolf fan, I didn’t immediately recognize it until well into the first verse. LLC plays it nice and bluesy. The lyrics are probably more relevant today than they were in 1968.
Another song here with a history is “Chevrolet,” written by Ed and Lonnie Young but based on a 1930 song called “Can I Do It for You?” by Memphis Minnie (her again!) and Kansas Joe and covered by all sorts of acts, from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (with vocals by Maria Muldaur), Donovan (who renamed it “Hey Gyp [Dig the Slowness]” and took songwriting credits) and, best of all, The Animals. LLC attack the song with their usual crunch and pow, making it a highlight of this collection.
But I like LLC’s original songs, too. Some of my favorites include “Circus” (even though it doesn’t seem to have much to do with circuses), “Amy’s in the Kitchen” (which starts off with a Tom Waits-like percussion and vocals segment before the guitar soars in), and the drum-heavy instrumental “Sausage Paw.”
* Victory Motel Sessions by King Mud. This group is basically a side project for Left Lane Cruiser’s Freddy “Joe”
Evans and drummer Van Campbell, who plays with a band called Black Diamond Heavies (like LLC, on the Alive/Natural Sound label). Guitarist Parker Griggs from Radio Moscow (also on Alive/Natural Sound) joins in on a couple of songs, making King Mud something of a punk-blues supergroup.
My favorite Mud songs at the moment are “Smoked All My Bud” (the whole group sounds mean and desperate); the frantic “War Dancers”; and the hard-rocking closing track “Blood River.”
Enjoy some punk blues videos. First some live Lonesome Shack.
The common critical view of the British Invasion hitmakers known as Herman's Hermits is that they were lightweight popsters whose greatest ability was making teenage girls scream and wet their pants. They weren't as rough as The Stones or as creative as The Beatles blah blah blah. And they didn't even have a cool dance like Freddie & The Dreamers.
But I've always respected Herman and the boys, mostly for the important work they did digging up weird old British Music Hall songs to introduce to a new generation.
Back in the early days of Throwback Thursday, I did a feature on one of those songs, "Two Lovely Black Eyes," written in 1886 by Charles Coborn.
Below are several other old tunes that I never would have known without Herman's Hermits.
And one of these was one of Herman's greatest hits, "I'm Henry VIII, I Am." Below is a 1911 version performed by singer/comedian Harry Champion. It was written circa 1910 by Fred Murray and R. P. Weston.
The Herman's Hermits album that really leaned on English Music Hall delights was the American version ofBoth Sides of Herman's Hermits. Here's one of my favorites, "My Old Dutch," written and sung by Albert Chevalier. I'm not certain of the recording date of this version, but he wrote it circa 1892.
Here's another hit for the Hermits. "Leaning on the Lamp Post was sung in 1937 by George Formby in the film Feather Your Nest.
And here's another from Both Sides of Herman's Hermits, "The Future Mrs. 'Awkins," also written by Albert Chevalier, circa 1898. This is a more recent version (1942) by British singer and actor Stanley Holloway.
Here is a Wacky Wednesday salute to some true punk rock survivors and all around funny guys: The Dickies.
This group -- fronted for decades by warbling singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee (no, not that Stan Lee) -- the group, which formed in 1977, is one of the longest-running punk bands from Los Angeles.
They have plenty of original songs, many of which, like "Bowling With Bed Rock Barney," "You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla," and "Manny, Moe & Jack." But some of their most hilarious are their cover songs.
I'll let the band make that argument.
The Dickies wrote and performed the theme song to the movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space and they write an ode to another tacky '80s flick The Toxic Avenger. But probably their first foray into themes from bad sci-fi was their cover of the theme to Gigantor, a 1960s cartoon about a robot.
The Dickies are one of the few punk bands to attempt a Simon & Garfunkel song.
The Dickies tackle this old Broadway tune
The Dickies are hip to Heap, (Uriah, that is)
And most bands that would choose to cover Iron Butterfly would take the easy way out and do "In a Gadda da Vida." Not The Dickies. They chose this obscurity:
But many fans, including me, believe in their hearts that The Dickies never topped this as their greatest cover song:
Tip of the hat to my pal Chuck, who back in the '80s turned me on to The Dickies' album We Aren't the World. I've never recovered.
There's a cool band coming to the Mine Shaft Tavern in former ghost town of Madrid, N.M.tonight(Friday July 17).
That's Lonesome Shack, a punk-blues trio (or "haunted boogie blues" as the group calls its sound) from Seattle. Frontman Ben Todd actually has roots in this Enchanted Land.
The group's publicist told me recently:
Ben's not originally from NM but he moved from Washington to Silver City, NM ('97-'98), then Albuquerque, NM ('98-'2001), and then moved to a rural area in Catron County near Alma,NM ('01-'04) where the Lonesome Shack still stands. His mom currently lives in Deming, NM.
Here's Lonesome Shack in action:
Doors open at 7 p.m. at the Mine Shaft tonight.
I didn't give you much advance warning on Lonesome Shack, so here's a show where I'm giving you plenty of warning:
One hundred thirty five years ago tonight Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett
went into the home of Pete Maxwell in Ft. Stockton, N.M.where he shot and killed
Billy the Kid.
In his stocking feet.
That was the end of Henry McCarty, (or was it William Bonney?) Dead at
But that was just the beginning of the legend of Billy the Kid. Heroic tales of
the "Boy Bandit King" spread across the country, spread by biographies, pulp
novels and, of course songs.
In some tellings he was a sociopathic killer. In others, a Robin Hood who stood
up to the political powers of the day.
I want to say "rest in peace, Billy." But I know he'll never rest in peace.
As Paul Hutton, a history professor at the University of New Mexico told me a
few years ago, “Billy can’t be killed. He’s the outlaw of our dreams.”
Here are my favorite Billy songs.
Woody Guthrie sings the classic.
Ry Cooder put a new melody (and song great mandolin) on his version
Bob Dylan, who co-starred in the Sam Peckinpah movie
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, wrote the soundtrack or the film. I'll never forget the time I was visiting the
old Lincoln County Courthouse -- where Billy killed two deputies to make his
escape -- and this haunting song was playing.
Joe Ely's Billy the Kid isn't tied to any historical version of Billy. I
personally don't believe the Kid would really shoot his girlfriend's chihuahua.
But it's still a great song.
This is the late John Hartford's Billy song.
And here's Bone Orchard from Taos, N.M. adding to Billy's legend.
This week for Wacky Wednesday I'm just posting a bunch of songs for strippers.
Let's start with one my Mom taught me as a kid.
Actually she just sang the first verse of this saga of Queenie, the cutie of the burlesque show. I thought it was hilarious and she did too.
(That's one of two songs I remember my mom teaching me. The other was a parody making fun of Mary Margaret Truman. ("She lives up in the White House with her father, Harry S") It was sung to to the tune of "The Missouri Waltz.")
A couple of weeks before Mom died, I played her this YouTube of "Strip Polka" on my iPhone, in her nursing home.
She wasn't completely conscious, but she smiled. The nurses thought I was crazy. But it meant something to us. Here's that song ...
This next one was a huge Top 40 radio hit in the early '60s. Probably because it didn't have any lyrics. But oh what pictures it put in my dirty little grade-school mind!
This one's a David Bromberg original about a supernatural carnival "coochie" dancer.
Here is one of the songs that made me love Doug Kershaw.
Here's a live 1977 rendition of Tom Waits' "Pasties and a G String" (with a little West Side Story and "Hernando's Hideaway" thrown in at the end.)
“The Bully Song” was a huge hit in 1895 for a Scots-Canadian singer named May Irwin, who performed it in a stage play called The Widow Jones — which is also notable because a brief scene which she kisses one of the other actors was filmed by Thomas Edison in 1897 and hence is one of the first movie love scenes. Irwin followed with other songs about African American badmen, sung in exaggerated dialect — though, unlike most white singers who specialized in that sort of material, she did not wear blackface make-up — and she was one of the few pop stars of the late 19th century to record some of her hits, including “The Bully Song.” But Ward explains there is some evidence that the song predates Irwin's version. He quotes W.C. Handy saying he heard it in the early 1890s.
Songs of this sort could be tremendous hits sometimes. On the levee at St. Louis I had heard Looking for the Bully sung by the roustabouts, which later was adopted and nationally popularized by May Irwin. I had watched the joy-spreaders rarin’ to go when it was played by the band
Below is Irwin's recording of the song. Unlike some of the versions that followed, Irwin is explicit in her desire to give the bully a taste of his own medicine.
She also explicitly -- and repeatedly-- uses that well racist term that contemporary polite folk call "The N-Word." You'd think she was NWA or something.
So if you don't want to hear that word, don't press play! (Ward does a cleaned-up version of the song HERE)
Gid Tanner was rather vague about the circumstances of the song here.
Lead Belly's version is similar, though he gives some additional information -- the Bully "shot the woman down." I suspect Mr. Ledbetter wanted to kill the Bully, go to prison for it, then get released by writing a song sucking up to the governor of whatever state he was in.
Here's Jerry Reed singing with Buck Owens and Roy Clark on Hee Haw. Without the racist language, Jerry's version is closer in spirit to May Irwin's original. This bully is a definite asshole. There's a violent confrontation and the bully loses.