Both Country songs and Western songs tend to tell stories, it’s just that the subjects about which they are written are very different. Country artists tend to be from Southern, rural backgrounds although there are always exceptions. From the distant past through the present, pickup trucks play a prominent role in Country songs. Relationships are often the focus…both ends of the relationship, in fact. There’s your “falling in love” songs, your “I love you so much” songs,” your “I don’t think I love you anymore” songs and of course, your “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone” songs. Drinking has always played a prominent role in Country songs as well. Hank Williams, Jr. certainly nailed that one when he wrote his song, “Family Tradition.” I once worked for a while with another singer in a duo and finally moved on due to his drinking issues. Years later, I saw him and he played me his latest song, “I Drink to Forget but I Don’t Forget to Drink!” Now THAT’S a Country song (as well as validation of my decision to take a different career path). Interestingly, as many drinking/divorce/wild living songs as there are, there are probably an equal number of Country songs written about family values, patriotism and religion. Go figure.
Western songs are, first and foremost, songs about the American West. Seems pretty obvious once you say it out loud, doesn’t it. Many, though not all Western entertainers are from the West (Don Edwards, one of the best, is originally from New Jersey but he got out here as quick as he could!). They have roots in Western traditions and many have participated in the cowboy life. Many, though not all, Western songs are about cowboys, horses and cattle. There are quite a few about the mountains, rivers and forests of the West and quite a few are dedicated to the topic of water, the lifeblood of the West. There are songs about the history of the West and songs about the West in 2014. Western recordings tend to be more acoustic in production and they are in many ways more similar to Folk music than they are to Country music.
If you look at the history of the Western migration, you’ll find that it was driven by equal parts desperation and dreams … despair over an intolerable life in the eastern part of our country and dreams of a better life out West. That pioneer spirit led many a man and woman to make the trek toward the Rocky Mountains. Only the strong and lucky survived. There is a noble spirit that prevails in the West, one of optimism and belief in one’s self. There is a remarkable blend of rugged independence with a willingness to work with your neighbors to get things done. This is what Western songwriters write about. Oh and of course, my pard Les Buffham writes songs such as “Nobody Kisses Their Horse Anymore.” Go figure.