That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 24: By The Light of the Moon & The Roots Remain
Following the departure from EMI Music, Dad returned to Sony – albeit briefly – for two new recorded projects.
In 1996, the CDB’s boxed set, ‘The Roots Remain’ which is the most comprehensive collection of CDB songs available was released.
Most everything on it you know, or I have written about in previous soapboxes, but I wanted to take just a moment to point out the new material, and one goof-up on the set.
The first song was the only one recorded for the project, the title song, “The Roots Remain,” it’s based on the poem which was on the ‘Powder Keg’ album.
It blends multiple styles and talks about the roots of American music, from country to rock to Gospel, and how even when the trends take it in vastly different directions, the roots are always there just under the ground, very much alive.
One quick bit of trivia, other artists recorded vocals to go along with dad’s, the only one I remember off the top of my head was Johnny Cash, but it was only released with dad’s recitation.
“To Be With Joanna Again” from the unreleased, ‘Honky Tonk Avenue’ album was included. I’d recommend anyone who doesn’t know the story to go back and check it out the soapbox on ‘HTA’ HERE
There was another unreleased track, “Running With That Crowd” which was originally recorded for ‘Powder Keg,’ if I’m not mistaken, but didn’t make the album. Not to be confused with “Running With The Crowd” from ‘High Lonesome.” As the title suggests, it’s about the trouble running with the wrong crowd can bring.
The goof-up is that “Midnight Wind’ as it appears listed on the boxed set is the one from the album of the same name, but the version actually included is from ‘Simple Man.’
That covers the boxed set, now onto ‘By the Light of the Moon: Campfire Songs and Cowboy Tunes.’
I believe the way the project began was dad reaching out to former CDB producer, John Boylan who produced everything from 1979s ‘Million Mile Reflections’ to 1987s ‘Powder Keg.’
Dad had written a children’s project and had hoped to pitch it to someone to take it to the next level with regards to what to actually do with it, develop it as an animated project, or a story album along with a children’s book.
John had produced an album with the voice actors from ‘The Simpsons’ called ‘Simpsons Sing the Blues,’ and dad reached out to John. For whatever reason, John focused only on one of the tracks from that project called “Yipiee Ki Yea,’ but he talked with dad about doing a children’s album of cowboy songs, so they approached the Sony Wonder label and moved forward with the kids cowboy album called 'By The Light of the Moon: Campfire Songs and Cowboy Tunes' which was released in 1997.
The album begins with the old traditional Western song, “Git Along Little Doggies,” which is about the cowboy way of life. A cowboy was out walking and saw a young cowboy riding with his spurs “a jingling” singing “Git along, little dogies” which is, of course, what they often call the cattle in the herd.
The cowboy goes on to recount the ranches he’s worked for, and time spent riding broncs.
It’s probably one of the best-known of all the cowboy songs, and has been recorded countless times.
Next up is “Cowboy Logic” originally recorded by Michael Martin Murphey. Murphey is a legend in the Western music genre, but most audiences know him from his song, “Wildfire” - which he released as Michael Murphey back in 1975.
Dad loved to say he lived by the cowboy logic philosophy, 1 and 1 always equals 2, water never runs uphill and if there’s smoke, there’s a fire somewhere.
“I’m An Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” is another one of the best-known Western songs of all time. It was written by Johnny Mercer, one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century. He also wrote “Jeepers Creepers!” and “Moon River,” but that just scratches the surface of his catalog.
It was originally sung by Bing Crosby in a Western called “Rhythm on the Range.”
In dad’s version, he reimagines the song for the younger generation as he sings about the individual members of a cowboy band, and gives kids an opportunity to join the band by singing, humming, clapping their hands or playing a kazoo.
“The Old Chisholm Trail” is an old song that goes back to 1910 and tells about a cattle drive led by a man named Chisholm who drove the herd from Texas to Kansas where the railroad yards were in order to transport beef across the country.
The song is probably best known for the line, “Come a ti yi yippee yippee yay, yippie yay, come a ti yi yippee yippee yay.”
Dad gives a bit of spoken history lesson throughout the song, describing the reasons and some of what the cowboys endured on the journey.
“Sixteen Tons” was written by Merle Travis and originally made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford. While not specifically a cowboy song but it fits with the other songs on the album.
It’s about a coal miner who works himself nearly to death in the mines only to get “another day older, and deeper in debt.” The company stores were notorious for being so expensive that it was nearly impossible to get square with them which is why the miner sings, “St. Peter, don’t you call me, ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”
Back to actual cowboy songs with “Back in the Saddle Again,” co-written and sung by the legendary Gene Autry, the king of the singing cowboys.
The song is sung by a cowboy who loves to be out on the range, who has presumably been away from it for a while, and is happy to be “back in the saddle again.”
The next song, “John Henry” tells the legend of John Henry, the steel-driving man. Typically portrayed as a black man, he took up a sledgehammer and spike while he was just a small child, and had real knack for it. When he was old enough, he set out to make his living driving steel on the railroad.
Unfortunately for John Henry, the captain of the railroad construction dismisses the need for him because of a brand-new steam drill that can do the work much faster than any man. But John Henry grabs a hammer in each hand and goes to work. The steam drill laid a mile of track while John Henry laid a mile and a half.
“Top Hand” is to my knowledge, one of only two songs that dad and John Boylan ever wrote together, and both of them appear on this album.
The song is about a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to ride a cattle drive with his dad who was a trail boss for a ranch out of San Antonio, but he tells his son that he will get his chance one day, but he needs to wait his turn because “It takes more than just a cowboy, son, you’ve got to be a man.”
Ignoring his father’s words, he signs on with a ranch to work the aforementioned Chisholm Trail. About two weeks in, a blizzard starts blowing in and he gets lost from the herd.
Fearing that he would freeze to death, through the blinding snow he sees a tall, mighty and familiar figure, his father who says he was “Just passin’ through, thought you could use a hand.”
The father goes on to say, “I knew you were a cowboy, now I know that you’re a man.”
“Saturday Night in Abilene” is the other Daniels/Boylan collaboration on the album. It’s about the end of the trail after several months and the party that often followed once the cow hands got all paid and cleaned up for a night on the town.
“I got a little money down in my jeans and it’s Saturday night in Abilene”
Abilene, Texas is probably the more well-known town, but Abilene, Kansas was the end of the Chisholm Trail, so that’s where the cowboys kicked up their heels before heading home to Texas.
The last song on the project is, “Yippee Ki Yea” which is what caught John Boylan’s attention.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s from a larger children’s story about animals who live in a small town down in rural Louisiana.
In the original story, a father rabbit is putting his son to bed after a long hard day of playing cowboy and sings his son a cowboy lullaby.
On this album, it’s presented similarly, the listeners have been playing cowboy all day, and it’s time to put away the six guns and the stick horses as it’s bedtime around the campfire.
It’s a fun little album, one that I have to admit, I haven’t listened to in quite a while, but it does have a lot of personal meaning for me for multiple reasons.
Yes, I played cowboy when I was a little guy, and my mattress had cowboys on it, and my bunk beds had wagon wheels on the foot ends.
It also has personal meaning in that dad dedicated the album to me which was something I didn’t realize until I picked up a copy that dad had set aside for me. It was a total surprise.
It was a cute album, but for whatever reason, it didn’t do much. Maybe cowboys weren’t what kids cared about in the mid-90s, but it is still available for streaming, so maybe someday it will find a new audience.
This was the last major label experience for dad, after this, dad went rogue and started his own label.
We’ll start talking about the Blue Hat Records era 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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