From Song To Dance

Well, you never know what you will hear on what passes for commercial radio these days. I never thought I would turn on my radio and hear that Tex Ritter singing that Lorena song on the radio.

“The years creep slowly by, Lorena;”
“The snow is on the grass again,”
“The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,”
“The frost gleams where the flowers have been.”

Lane Cooter Junior used to sing that in between the Zebra Dun and the real cowboy version of “The Strawberry Roan.” You don’t know those tunes.

Strawberry was not the bowdlerized version that Marty Robbins put out. Nosir, Lane Junior sang Curley Wheeler’s original version and belted out the tune on his squeeze box in his tack room concerts. I can’t quote the whole thing, fifty or sixty verses would take up too much room, and tit would disturb the hosting company!

But one of the cleanest verses goes like this –

I takes my riata and builds me a loop;
Strawberry is ready, he lets out a poop.
I walks right up to him, he offers no sass,
But reaches right down, takes a hunk off’a my a__!!.

Now I kid you not. Lane Cooter Junior could sing as well as anybody I ever heard. Had one of those voices that was real smooth when he was croonin’ “Leonora” or “The Curtains of Night,” but when he sang that Strawberry Roan tune he could put a rasp in is voice that sounded just like an old broken down ranny tellin’ it like it used to be, fer sure.

Like a lot of folks that can sure enough sing and play, he didn’t want to pay his dues and make himself a rep as a singer. He’d rather ranch days, sing hymns in church Sundays, entertain the women folks on occasions, and lend a tune to the tack room concert when Lizzie or the twins had a play party.

Of course, women were strictly excluded from the tack room concerts! Not that by today’s standards the music was bad – but “There’s Blood on the Saddle, Blood on the Ground” wasn’t considered fit for the ladies ears. And something like Curley Fletcher’s “Open Ledger” song:

“But each range breeds its own brand of bastard
And boozefighter, bugger, and bum;
Every half ass vaquero who wears a sombrero
Is marked by the range he is from.
Some come from the Canadian Rockies,
Some drift in from the Southwestern plains.
It surely beats hell, but it’s easy to tell
Where each learned to tighten his reins.”

– was considered unfit for any but the most hardened ears. Even if Curly wrote nothing but Gospel.

But I sure wish I had a tape of Junior singing that “Wild Wild Cowboy” song. There was nothing poisonous in either version, nothing that would give you any bad ideas or make you want to do anything the Good Lord didn’t intend for you to do, and times have gotten liberal enough that you could put out a CD with the “clean” version and sell it on TV. You still couldn’t play it on TV, except on the pay-to-view, though. Even though the “family hours” are loaded with stuff that makes cyanide seem harmless. Oh well.

But anyhoo, Tex singing “Bury Me Not on the Lone Praireee,” that kind of music brings back memories. Leonora was a favorite amongst the Cooter women, and it ‘minds me of the time a traveling book and bible salesman sold Mrs Leonora Cooter, Mrs. Lane Cooter Senior, Lane Junior’s mama, an expensive “Encyclopedia of Home Remedies.” She was afraid to tell Lane Senior how much it cost so she left it layin’ around hoping Senior would find something he could use in it.

So one day she sees the old man drop a piece of paper in the book. Filled with hope, she waits until Senior left and then searches out the paper. Just as she thought, he’d written a note and left it in the book. The note said “There ain’t no recipe for curin’ suckers in this damn thing.”

Not much got by Senior, and he knew how much it cost!

Yessir, old Lane was a cutter. He’d put plenty of wrinkles in his horns during nearly a century of life, for sure. And he sure enough had a rep for bein’ a sharp businessman and a first class cowman. Which usually means the same thing because an ordinarily talented business man would go broke in the cow business in about ten minutes.

I ‘member when a city feller name of Shay came calling unexpected, looking for the old man’s advice. He caught up with him out in the tack room.

“Mr. Lane, I sold so many beef futures that I can’t sleep at night. If the price of beef goes up more’n two cents a pound I’m a ruined man. You been in the cattle business a long time and I was wondering what you would advise me to do?” sez Shay.

“Wal, Mr. Shay, if I wuz you I ‘spec I’d sell them futures down to the sleepin’ point,” sez Old Lane. Good business advice at any time, particular if you can sell at a profit. Even a small profit. Yessir, you could pick up a fairly decent education, out in the tack room.

And hear more than a few funny stories. Like the one Rafter A Roberts, his book name was Robert Robbins Roberts, which was confusing, told about him and a buddy getting drunk and rowdy and getting thrown off a train, out in Colorado.

They knew they didn’t have a chance of flagging another train, and he’d always heard that if you are lost follow running water because a stream runs into a creek, creeks flow into rivers, and people build towns on rivers. Sooner or later you will come to a settlement. Usually later!

So for three cold, hungry, and utterly footsore days Roberts and his buddy hoofed it; following a rill to a stream to a creek to where it flowed into the Arkansas river. And his buddy never said a word, just slogged along a few feet behind Roberts all the way. But just as they got to the river his buddy calls his name.

“Roberts,” sez Silent Sam.

“Yeah, that’s what they calls me,” sez Rafter A.

“Roberts,” sez his bunkie, “I wish’t I could hear it thunder.”

“Thunder,” sez Roberts, thunderstruck. “Whatten’ell do you want to hear thunder for?”

“Wal, I allus heard thunder is the voice of God;” sez Silent Sam, pointing up at cliffs “twenty feet apart and a mile high,” and if I could hear it thunder I’d know I’m still on God’s earth. Down here in this canyon with nothing but rocks and these scrubby pine trees I’m damn fino where I’m at.”

Now I can sympathize with that. I been so turned around I didn’t know whether I was on God’s green earth or Satan’s Chaos. And in the parts of Texas I was turned around in nobody else could tell either.

But that Roberts feller was an old batch who was lady shy, plumb. And Rafter A didn’t want to live in single blessedness in the worst way.

One time I heard him tell Jack Cooter, who was about the most henpecked husband that ever walked the earth that a bachelor had nobody to share his troubles with.

“Why in hell would a bachelor have troubles in the first place?” wondered Jack.

They said Roberts took a pretty little Cherokee gal to a dance on on the way there he said just three words. “Do you like rabbit?” To which his Cherokee maiden answered “Yes.”

When they got to the dance, Roberts was so shy him and his maiden spent the evening on wallflower row. And on the way home he spoke exactly five words. To wit, “And ain’t rabbit gravy nice?” That gal said she wasn’t much on talking herself but that was way too little gab to suit her.

Finally Roberts got so hard up he called up an old maid schoolteacher name of Minerva Simpson and got right to the point.

“Miss Simpson, will you marry me?” he sez.

And he got a quick answer, too.

“Yes,” sez Miss Minnie. “Who is speaking?”

Which was how Rafter A Roberts took the fatal step – and became almost as henpecked as Jack Cooter. But that’s a story for another time because I see it’s time to tend to some knittin’.


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