An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
"The Lone Star Trail [Talkie Hit From Universal Picture "The Wagon Master" ]" - Ken Maynard (The American Boys Favorite Cowboy)
Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Thirteen: "The Lone Star Trail [Talkie Hit From Universal Picture "The Wagon Master"]" performed by Ken Maynard (The American Boys Favorite Cowboy). "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Los Angeles on April 14, 1930. Original issue Columbia 2310D (W149832).
Kenneth Olin Maynard was born in Vevay, Indiana on July 21, 1895. Little is known of his early life or of his family, other than the fact that Maynard was one of five children.
At the age of 16, Maynard began working as a circus and rodeo performer. He performed as a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1914, and later joined the Ringling Brother's Circus. He served in the U.S. Army during the first World War.
After the war, Maynard found himself performing in Los Angeles when a friend suggested that he seek work in films. In 1923, Maynard began working in silent movies and was soon under contract to Fox Studios. He worked as both an actor and as a stuntman, and his horsemanship and good looks soon made him a cowboy star. Maynard is frequently cited as one of the first "Singing Cowboys" (in fact, Gene Autry made his film debut in one of Maynard's movies). In addition to acting, Maynard also produced numerous films, wrote several screenplays, and directed 1933's The Fiddling Buckaroo. In 1930, Maynard recorded several sides for Columbia, including "The Lone Star Trail," which had been featured in the 1929 film, The Wagon Master in which Maynard had starred in the role of "The Rambler."
In all, Maynard appeared in more than 90 films (IMDB lists 94 films, as opposed to the 300 mentioned by Jeff Place in his notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology). He was billed as "the American boy's favorite cowboy."
It is not known when exactly Maynard began his descent into alcoholism, but by 1944 it had become the contributing factor in the end of his film career. In his later years, he made appearances at state fairs and in rodeos. The money he had earned as an actor was lost and Maynard lived out his remaining years in a mobile home, supported by an unknown benefactor (believed by some to be Gene Autry). He made a few final film and television appearences in the early 1970s and died on March 23, 1973. Maynard has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Oh, I am a lonely cowboy and I'm all from the Texas train. My trade is cinchin' saddles and pullin' bridle rein. But I can twist a lasso with the greatest skill and ease. Or rope and ride a bronco most anywhere I please.
Oh, I love the rollin' prairie that's far from trail and strife. Behind a bunch of longhorns, I'll journey all my life. But if I had a stake boys, soon married I would be, To the sweetest girl in this wide world just fell in love with me.
Oh, when we get on the trail boys, and the dusty billows rise, It's fifty miles from water and the grass is scorchin' dry. Oh, the boss is mad and rangy and you all can plainly see. I'll have to follow the longhorns, I'm a cowboy here to be.
But when it comes a-rain boys, one of the gentle kind. When the lakes are full of water and the grass is waivin' fine. Oh, the boss will shed his frown boys, and a pleasant smile you'll see. I'll have to follow the longhorns, I'm a cowboy here to be.
Oh, when we get 'em bedded, we think [?] down for the night, Some horse'll shake his saddle and give the herd a fright. They'll get to their feet boys, and madly stampede away. In one moment's time boys, you can hear a cowboy say...
Oh, when we get 'em bedded, we feel most inclined. When the cloud'll rise in the west boys, and the fire play on their horns. Oh, the old boss rides around then. Your pay you'll get in gold. So I'll have to follow the longhorns until I am too old.
In some ways, Maynard is the ringer on the original three volume Anthology. While he was by no means the only professional showman whose recordings appear on this set, he is the only one who came to music through another medium (in this case, through film). Maynard appeared to be accomplished on several instruments. He plays guitar on "The Lone Star Trail" and is shown playing the fiddle and the banjo in various film roles. Yet Maynard's biography makes no mention of music during his formative years. While he doubtless learned to play as a boy, music seemed to take a backseat to riding, stunt work, and later acting. While Place's notes indicate that "The Lone Star Trail" is a genuine cowboy song dating to the days of the cattle drives, there is no indication that Maynard knew the song before he was asked to sing it in The Wagon Master. In other words, while the song is a true example of folk music, Maynard does not appeared to have come to the song through the folk process.
Nevertheless, Mayard's recording of "The Lone Star Trail" seems to have made a favorable impression on Smith, who calls the record "one of the very few recordings of authentic "cowboy" singing." While Maynard may have played a cowboy in films, wild west shows, rodeos, and circuses, there is no evidence to support the notion that Maynard was an "authentic" cowboy. In does not seem to have ever worked on a ranch punching cattle.
Questions of authenticity aside, the question remains: Is "The Lone Star Trail" an effective record? In my opinion, it is. Maynard's high, nasal voice may not immediately strike the listener as sounding sufficiently "rugged," but it effectively conveys the mood of the song, which describes the lonely day-to-day existence of a cowboy on the trail. If Maynard wasn't a real cowboy, he appears to be a real actor, if nothing else. He plays the cowboy well enough that we believe in him, especially when he sings the high, keening, wordless chorus. He may not give us the romance of the old west as effectively as later singing cowboys such as Autry or Roy Rogers, but Maynard does conjure up the grim reality of lonely men who were, essentially, skilled laborers doing a dirty job.
"The Lone Star Trail" is the only recording on the original Anthology recorded in California.
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Here's a clip from the 1934 film In Old Santa Fe starring Maynard. The clip features Maynard lip synching "As Long As I Got My Dog," which is actually performed by Bob Noland. Note Maynard's famous horse, Tarzan, and his cantankerous sidekick, Cactus. This film also features the debut of Gene Autry who would quickly surpass Maynard in popularity. I also like the way the film messes with chronology. Maynard and Cactus appear to be living in the old west, while in the very next scene a late model car is featured. Only in the movies!