Photo courtesy of the PRCA.
The American Cowboy is known all over the world as a symbol of America. The cowboy life might not have been quite as glamorous as the silver screen portrayed it, yet most of the men and women who lived their lives as cowboys or cowgirls wouldn’t have traded it for any big city job available to them at the time.
From that golden era came many familiar cowboy songs, some of them originating as folk tunes in other countries and adapted to their new situation by those Irish or Spanish cowboys who worked out west. Later, cowboy songs were big parts of movies during the singing cowboy era, with Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen and Gene Autry gaining popularity not only as actors but singers too. Carl T. Sprague is considered the original singing cowboy, recording the first authentic cowboy song, “When the Work’s All Done this Fall,” which sold 900,000 copies.
Today’s singer/songwriters have not forgotten the cowboy way. Folks like Ian Tyson, Michael Martin Murphey, Riders in the Sky, Don Edwards, Ed Bruce and the late Chris LeDoux have given us newer songs and also revived some of the older tunes. Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, the late Marty Robbins and the late Johnny Cash were also more than happy to sing the new western songs and keep the cowboy tradition alive in country music.
In no particular order, here are our picks for the Top 20 Cowboy & Cowgirl Songs. Leave us a comment below and let us know your favorite! And, be sure to follow GAC’s coverage of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at GACTV.com/wnfr »
Although Chris LeDoux recorded this song first, most people remember George Strait’s version, which begins with a beautiful intro played by fiddle great Buddy Spicher. Here’s a clip of George singing “Amarillo By Morning” live. The song is about a cowboy’s love for the sport of rodeo, no matter what happens to him and no matter what he loses, saddles and girlfriends included. George, as most of his fans know, sponsors his own Team Roping Classic in San Antonio each year. He is no slouch as a roper either!
This song, written by Jerrod Niemann (performing it in the clip above), Richie Brown, Bryan Kennedy and Bob Doyle, became Garth Brooks‘ tribute to his friend Chris LeDoux after the rodeo champ and singer passed away in 2005. It chronicles Chris’ rise to fame in the rodeo world and as a singer, as well as his down-to-earth ways as a father and husband. Chris and Garth became friends after the Oklahoma singer named the rodeo cowboy in his first single, “Too Young to Feel This Damn Old.” They also recorded a duet in 1992, “What’cha Gonna Do With A Cowboy.”
“Night Rider’s Lament” – Suzy Bogguss
Upon hearing this song, one would assume it was written in the heyday of the cowboy. A little research finds it was written by real-life cowboy Michael Burton, but in a much more recent setting, circa 1975. It describes how one cowboy chose career over true love and how he sometimes thinks about what might have been. Those thoughts don’t linger long, however, as he quickly remembers why he chose the life of a cowboy on the range. The tune has been recorded by everyone from Chris LeDoux to Garth Brooks and Nanci Griffith, but Suzy has one of the great versions of the tune. Here she is singing it with Jerry Jeff Walker.
“Should’ve Been A Cowboy” – Toby Keith
Despite the fact that he is as much at home on a horse as he is on a stage, Toby Keith laments in this song that he should have been a cowboy. The Oklahoma native thinks he should have learned to rope and ride in a cattle drive, because he thinks as a cowboy he could have stolen the young girls’ hearts like his heroes, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Who among us hasn’t thought how glamorous it would be to be a cowboy on a big ranch somewhere out west, or at the very least, in a movie?
“Someday Soon” – Ian Tyson
Written by Ian Tyson, “Someday Soon” has been recorded by Judy Collins, Suzy Bogguss and many others and has charted in pop, folk and country. This 2009 video features Ian singing it – and you can see Suzy’s version HERE. Continue Reading