In July, 1933, Alan Lomax and his father John Lomax visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. John Lomax, as a representative of the Library of Congress in Washington, was searching for folksongs, but there seemed to be little in the way of singing at Angola, that is until a warder brought Leadbelly to their attention. Playing a heavy 12-string guitar and singing in a deep, rumbling manner, Leadbelly began with a version of the old cowboy song The Old Chisholm Trail, which he called Western Cowboy (AAFS # 119-B-1)
Leadbelly's version of "Western Cowboy" was recorded by the Lomaxes on July 16, 1933. It's not a typical cowboy song, but it shows how an imaginative blues singer can take a fragment of a song and build it into a powerful story.
Leadbelly recorded this song at least five times and each version varied in content as well as title. It shows Leadbelly's love of Western Music.
Listen here to the 36 seconds version of Leadbelly's first ever recorded song from 1933 as part of a medley:
As I just said Leadbelly's song " Western Cowboy" was derived from "The Old Chisholm Trail".
Especially the "Come a ti-yi-yippee, yipee yay, yippee yay" part.
"The Old Chisholm Trail" (named after the famous Chisholm cattle trail ) is a cowboy song that dates back to the
1870s, when it was among the most popular songs sung by cowboys during
that era. Based on an English lyrical song that dates back to 1640, "The
Old Chisholm Trail" was modified by the cowboy idiom. It has been
recorded by the world's most popular Western singers, including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, cisco Houston, Peter LaFarge, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Bing Crosby, Randy Travis, and Michael Martin Murphey.
And Roger McGuinn (see next link)
The oldest version seems to be recorded on March 22, 1928 by Harry "Mac" McClintock (1928)
Leadbelly's song "Western Cowboy" is also partly derived from "The Sporting Cowboy" , which starts with the line "When I Was a Cowboy"
Watts and Wilson's "The Sporting Cowboy"
Watts and Wilson (Wilmer Watts and Frank Wilson), c. April, 1927, Chicago, IL.
Released on Paramount 3006
And on Broadway 8112 (as by Weaver and Wiggins)
As I said above Leadbelly recorded "Western Cowboy" at least five times
In 1934 Leadbelly recorded another version of "Western Cowboy".
Recorded ca. July 1, 1934 in Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana for the Library of Congress (#122-B)
In 1943 Leadbelly recorded another version: "Cow Cow Yicky Yicky Yea / Out on the Western Plains"
Recorded ca. October 1943 in New York City.
Released on Disc 3002 (as part of the 3-disc album "Negro Folksongs sung by Lead Belly".
And in 1944 Leadbelly recorded another version : "When the Boys Were On the Western Plain" (later retitled as "Western Plain (When I Was a Cowboy)")
Recorded February 17, 1944 in New York City
Leadbelly's "When I Was a Cowboy" was also contained in John A. Lomax's book "American Ballads and Folk Songs" (1934)
"The Old Chizzum Trail" was also contained in Lomax's "American Ballads and Folk Songs" (1934), where it was right behind Leadbelly's "When I was a Cowboy"
But already in 1910 "The Old Chisholm Trail" was contained in John Lomax's book "Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads"
Woody Guthrie used Leadbelly's arrangement for his song "Jesse James".
Recorded April 25, 1944
Moses Asch planned to release this Woody Guthrie song on an anthology of cowboy songs, but it was not released at the time. It was finally released in 1991
And in 1997
(NOT to be confused with this song http://jopiepopie.blogspot.nl/2013/11/jesse-james-1920-jesus-christ-1940.html
In 1944 Woody Guthrie also recorded a version of "The Old Chisholm Trail"
Recorded April 19, 1944
First released in 1964 on the album "Hard Travelin" (Disc D-110)
Leadbelly's version was also covered by:
(c) Ian & Sylvia 1966 (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
(c) John Denver 1966 (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
(c) Jim Kweskin Jug Band (1967) (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
Maria Moldonado (better known as Maria Muldaur) sings a beautiful version on Jim Kweskins album Garden of Joy (Reprise label RS6266)
(c) The Sllednats (= Standells) 1967 (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
(c) Harpers Bizarre 1968 (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
(c) Hearts and Flowers (1968) (as "When I was a Cowboy")
On album "Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women"
(c) Rory Gallagher 1975 (as "Out On The Western Plain")
(c) Peter Rowan 1978 (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
Listen to a sample here:
(c) Odetta (2001) (as "When I Was a Cowboy")
(c) Van Morrison (as "Western Plain")
Recorded in the Caledonia Studio in Fairfax, California in 1975
Released in 1998 on the album "The Philosopher's Stone"
(c) Alvin Youngblood Hart 1996 (as ("When I Was a Cowboy (Westen Plains)"
Released on album "Big Mama's Door")