That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 7: Saddle Tramp
In 1975, the CDB released their last record on Kama Sutra Records, but bigger things were in the works. Based on the success of ‘Fire on the Mountain’, and to a lesser extent, ‘Nightrider,’ dad signed what was at the time the largest recording contract based out of Nashville.
As a consequence, not only would all albums be released through CBS Records Epic Records division, they also purchased the back catalog from Kama Sutra consisting of ‘Te John Grease and Wolfman,’ ‘Honey in the Rock,’ ‘Way Down Yonder,’ ‘Fire on the Mountain,’ and ‘Nightrider’ and re-released all the titles on Epic, changing the artwork on the three older ones, and the titles as well for HITR and WDY to ‘Uneasy Rider’ and ‘Whiskey’ respectively.
But that was the only change - for the time being - Paul Hornsby continued to produce and the band continued to record in Macon, GA’s famed Capricorn Studios.
The first official CBS/Epic release was ‘Saddle Tramp.’
Before we get into the meat of the album, I have to clear up a few things about the cover.
No, it’s not Richard Petty, and it’s not Burt Reynolds as The Bandit from “Smokey and the Bandit.” In fact, that movie was released in 1977, a full year after ‘Saddle Tramp.’ The cover is an amalgam of guys from the CDB band and crew at the time. The hat was based on a hat dad wore at the time, the mustache belonged to the road manager, the eyes to someone else, etc…
I just call him The Composite Cowboy.
This album only has seven tracks, I’ll have to research it, but that may be a record for the CDB as most were ten songs with a few coming in at 8 or 9.
That being said, the album kicks off with “Dixie on My Mind,” a hot fiddle tune about a man who is trying to hitchhike back to the south - ANYWHERE in the south - from San Francisco via Denver because he was basically homeless “cold and wet and broke,” and sleeping in a sleeping bag. For him, anywhere in the south had to be better than his previous circumstances.
Next up is the enduring title song, “Saddle Tramp,” about a cowboy who drifts along “like the endless desert sand.” It also features an “Free Bird”- style extended instrumental section which really kicks, and brings the song’s length to 11:01, making it one of the longest CDB songs to date, and probably why the album only has seven songs.
Drifting and longing for home seem to be prevailing themes with the ‘Saddle Tramp’ album. “Sweet Louisiana” is a prime example. It’s about a rodeo cowboy has bounced from Tulsa to Canada, and Kansas City and misses his sweet Louisiana home just across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg Mississippi.and says that “the women in Ouachita Parish drive a young man up the wall.”
And the longing continues with “Wichita Jail” about a man who is stuck in jail in Wichita Kansas after getting in a fight he doesn’t remember, but “If they done half the things they say I did, then I sure must’ve had a ball,” and can’t wait to get home to his girl in Mississippi.
Then we have Tommy Crain’s contribution for the album, “Cumberland Mountain Number Nine” about bootleggers running moonshine. It’s one of Tommy’s best songs, and similar to “Franklin Limestone” from ‘Nightrider,’ the last nearly 40 seconds turns the tempo way up and the instrumental portion is punctuated with lots of dad’s fiddle.
The next song, “It’s My Life,” takes the opposite approach. It begins with a brief very fast highly jazz-influenced intro which slows down after 45 seconds into a true blue (no pun intended) blues song about a hard luck man telling his lady that whether she leaves or stays, she “ain’t gonna change my life.”
There’s one of my favorites of dad’s lyrics in this song, “you can take a boy out of the country, but it’s hard to get all of the country out of the boy.”
It’s one of the best blues songs the CDB ever did.
And the album closes out with “Sweetwater Texas” a pure country song about a man who couldn’t wait to leave the sleepy little town of his birth, but his love for “the girl with the chestnut brown hair” kept him there. They eventually leave together, but when they settle in Houston, things start falling apart, and he begins losing her.
The song doesn’t explicitly say it, but it implies that she left him and went back home, because the song ends with him vowing to ride back over Durango Mountain to make “Sweetwater Texas my home.”
Hopefully, they lived happily ever after.
The album was dedicated to dad's friend and drummer, Bill Belcher, whom he worked with back in his early days and later became a roadie and road manager in the early 1970s.
"Oregon, I'm not a stranger,
Idaho, our paths have crossed.
I just want to leave my footprints
In your late October frost.
For the never-ending highway
Beckons to the rolling stone,
Till He, Who understands all,
Calls the gentle drifter home." - Charlie Daniels 1976
So, this was the band’s first CBS/Epic release, and its first release of 1976, but it wasn’t the only 1976 release. For the second time – previously in 1974 - the band released two albums, ‘Saddle Tramp,’ and ‘High Lonesome.’ We’ll talk about that album next time.
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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