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chapter 1 They All Go Native on a Saturday Night Civilized versus Native in American Vernacular Music Country Roots When I was seven years old, my family drove across Texas from our hometown of Beaumont to my father’s new construction job in Levelland. It was a long way on two-lane highways from the bayous and swamps of the southeastTexas Gulf Coast,through the piney woods,and out to the plains. As we went farther west,everything got drier and drier,and we finally ended up in a place where dust storms were a regular occurrence and I ate sand in my Cheerios every morning. Mama and Daddy and my older sister, Carol (always Sissy to everyone in the family), my little brother, Bubba (David), baby sister,Linda,and I were making our first long trip in the new Chevrolet. We’d stop to eat barbecue or chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, mashed potatoes, and okra and tomatoes; all those dishes now seem one with the music we heard on the café jukeboxes and on the car radio. One song I remember was Red Foley’s“Tennessee Saturday Night.” Now, listen while I tell you ’bout a place I know Down in Tennessee where the tall corn grows . . . . . . . . Civilized people live there all right But they all go native on Saturday night. (Transcribed by the author) It was a big country hit in 1947; people must have liked the idea of “going native.” The song continues, 2 chapter 1 They do the boogie to an old square dance. The woods are full of couples lookin’ for romance. Somebody takes his brogan knocks out the light. Yes, they all go native on Saturday night. The song refers to drunkenness, sex, and violence in sometimes indirect ways, but the country audience knew that getting“kicks from an old fruit jar”meant drinking moonshine,and that the“couples looking for romance”in the woods were doing more than smooching. The violence is more explicit: When they really get together there’s a lot of fun. They all know the other fella packs a gun. Everybody does his best to act just right ’Cause there’s gonna be a funeral if ya start a fight. The music seems pretty tame now,an arrangement straight out of 1930s and ’40s western swing, pre-honky-tonk in style if not by date. And Red Foley brought his trained voice to the mix, further civilizing the lyrics. (More on this song in chapter 2.) Another song I remember hearing on the radio on that trip was“Oklahoma Hills.” It was written by Woody Guthrie and sung on the 1947 hit record by his cousin Jack Guthrie.The song is set in the period when Oklahoma was Indian Territory before it became a state. Way down yonder in the Indian Nation Cowboy’s life is my occupation In them Oklahoma Hills where I was born. (Transcribed by the author) The words must have stuck in my mind because my father was born in Oklahoma in 1912,five years after the IndianTerritory became a state.Plus, my brother, David, and I loved cowboys; we went to see Gene Autry, Lash Larue,andRedRydermovieseverySaturdaymorninginLubbock,atwentytwo -mile drive from Levelland but worth the trip for the whole family. I was especially thrilled by the opening of the Red Ryder movies, when Red and Little Beaver step out of a book. I loved to read as much as I loved listening to music on the radio, and I read lots of books and comics about cowboys and Indians, outlaws, and sweethearts of the rodeo. There’s a family picture of Bubba and me standing on a boulder in the Rocky Mountains a year after moving to Levelland They All Go Native on a Saturday Night 3 with Daddy holding Linda next to us. When Mama—the family photographer —took this picture, I was eight and Bubba was seven, and we’re wearing Roy Rogers cowboy shirts. In later years, Sissy and her husband, Bob, kept one of those shirts hanging in the family den at their home in Missoula,Montana,along with a western print by Remington,photographs of a winter cattle roundup at the ranch Bob’s father owned near Ovando, and some paintings of ranch landscapes by a local artist or someone in the family, I don’t remember which. But I do have vivid memories of Sissy,eighteen at the time,driving the car to Daddy’s next...


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