Even cowboys get the blues

I was looking through some of my very old country blues music the other day, and came upon a CD collection of vintage songs titled “Booger Rooger Saturday Night!” by Orvon Grover Autry. You probably know him better as Gene Autry. The rest of the album title is “Gene Autry Blues Singer 1929 – 1931”

You also probably know him better as a movie star (93 films), TV star, recording artist (640 recordings), and baseball team owner. But at the very beginning of his career, Autry was considered the second most important country artist after Jimmie Rodgers.

The songs in this collection are among his first recordings, and some of them are among the 300 songs that he wrote or co-wrote. The photo on the album cover was taken about 1927, and this CD compilation was released in 1996 by Sony Legacy.

His first actual recording hit was in 1932 with “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” a duet with fellow railroad man Jimmy Long that Autry and Long co-wrote. In 1932, Autry married Ina Mae Spivey, Long’s niece. But during this marriage he also had a lengthy affair with Gail Davis, the actress who played Annie Oakley in the television series of the same name that Autry executive produced.

I thought it was interesting that Autry — probably most remembered for two things: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which he didn’t write), and his movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, when he was the all-American cowboy hero — started out recording these little blues tunes.

Autry was a man with many interests. He was the original owner of Challenge Records. The label’s biggest hit was “Tequila” by The Champs in 1958.

He was the owner of the new Los Angeles Angels team in 1961, which moved to suburban Anaheim and became the California Angels in 1966, then the Anaheim Angels from 1997 until 2005, when it became the Los Angeles Angels.

And he did a lot of other things, too — WWII pilot, rodeo involvement, Melody Ranch — all of which you can read about here.

This was how it was all summed up on his tombstone:

“America’s Favorite Cowboy … American Hero, Philanthropist, Patriot and Veteran, Movie Star, Singer, Composer, Baseball Fan and Owner, 33rd Degree Mason, Media Entrepreneur, Loving Husband, Gentleman”

But they didn’t mention blues singer.

Here’s his original song, “Rheumatism Blues” from the album:

Track List (Album information here)

  • 01. Birmingham Daddy (02:43)
  • 02. Rheumatism Blues, The (02:26)
  • 03. Dallas County Jail Blues (03:01)
  • 04. Jail-House Blues (02:39)
  • 05. I’m Atlanta Bound (02:39)
  • 06. In the Jailhouse Now, No. 2 (02:43)
  • 07. Bear Cat Papa Blues (02:49)
  • 08. Wildcat Mama Blues (02:22)
  • 09. High Steppin’ Mama Blues (02:41)
  • 10. Yodeling Hobo, A (03:00)
  • 11. T.B. Blues (02:56)
  • 12. California Blues (02:33)
  • 13. Slu-Foot Lou (02:41)
  • 14. Stay Away from My Chicken House (02:43)
  • 15. Waiting for a Train (02:38)
  • 16. Frankie and Johnny (02:41)
  • 17. Do Right Daddy Blues (02:44)
  • 18. Blue Yodel No. 5 (02:36)
  • 19. My Rough and Rowdy Ways (02:44)
  • 20. Left My Gal in the Mountains (02:36)
  • 21. I’ve Always Been a Rambler (02:32)
  • 22. Dust Pan Blues (02:44)
  • 23. That’s Why I Left the Mountains (03:09)

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