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Carl T. Sprague Cowtrails, Longhorns And Tight Saddles

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  • BCD15979
  • 0.115
1-CD with 38-page booklet, 24 tracks, playing time 75:01 minutes. - Carl T.... more

Carl T. Sprague: Cowtrails, Longhorns And Tight Saddles

1-CD with 38-page booklet, 24 tracks, playing time 75:01 minutes. -


Carl T. Sprague   Cowtrails, Longhorns, And Tight Saddles - Cowboy Songs 1925 - 1929

On three successive days in August of 1925, a thirty year-old athletic trainer from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (Texas A&M) named Carl T. 'Doc' Sprague stepped up to a studio microphone at the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey and recorded ten songs learned on cattle drives in South Texas. Soon one of the songs, When The Work's All Done This Fall, about a cowboy killed during a night stampede would explode onto the American recorded music scene. As a result, the image of the singing cowboy was permanently established in American folk culture.

Western music collector and historian, Fred Hoeptner asserted in his 1965 notes to 'Authentic Cowboys And Their Western Folksongs' (RCA Victor LPV 522) that the recording sold 'over 900,000' copies in the intervening years. Though this figure has yet to be verified there is no question that the song was a nationwide hit.

Sprague had learned When The Work's All Done This Fall and many other cowboy songs as a young man while working with an uncle on cattle drives prior to enrolling at Texas A&M. In a 1970 interview with the late cowboy singer and folklorist, John I. White, Sprague said that he had always been interested in music, having had a band in college and a musical radio show on the campus experimental station at A&M. He was inspired to seek an audition with Victor after hearing another Texan, Vernon Dalhart's recording of The Prisoner's Song. With the arrangements of the cowboy songs provided by a local music teacher and girlfriend, Lura Bess Mayo, Sprague traveled to Camden and history was made.

Texans showing up and asking to be recorded was not new to the people at Victor. Three summers earlier in June 1922, fiddler A.C. 'Eck' Robertson of Amarillo and his friend and fiddling contest rival, Henry Gilliland of Altus, Oklahoma, did that very same thing, apparently on a lark, after traveling to Virginia to play at a Confederate veterans’ reunion. Sprague's arrival in Camden, which was prearranged, was less outrageous than Robertson and Gilliland who were dressed in a cowboy outfit and a Confederate Army uniform respectively, but his songs of cowboy life were no less foreign to the Camden executives. Few if any Victor executives were aware of the vast amount of cowboy material that existed.

In its adolescence by the 1920s, the American recording industry was well acquainted with jazz, opera, and the antecedents of modern country music, then referred to as mountain, hillbilly, or old time music. Poems and songs by and about the cowboy life had not entered the national consciousness. Folklorists such as Nathan Howard 'Jack' Thorpe and John A. Lomax had collected cowboy songs and published them in the early part of the Twentieth Century but the idea of commercial recordings of these songs being popular with large numbers of people was as yet unproven.

In 1919 Bentley Ball recorded The Dying Cowboy and Jesse James for Columbia. In November 1924 Charles Nabell recorded several cowboy songs for the Okeh label. Ball and Nabell were not exclusively cowboy singers nor is there any evidence that they had worked as cowboys. Carl Sprague was both and he had the good fortune to show up in the right place, with the right songs at the right time.

Article properties: Carl T. Sprague: Cowtrails, Longhorns And Tight Saddles

Sprague, Carl T. - Cowtrails, Longhorns And Tight Saddles CD 1
01 When The Work's All Done This Fall
02 Kisses
03 Bad Companions
04 Following The Cowtrail
05 Cow Boy Love Song
06 The Club Meeting
07 If Your Saddle Is Good And Tight
08 The Gambler
09 O Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie (The...)
10 The Cowboy's Dream
11 Here's To The Texas Ranger
12 The Boston Burglar
13 Rounded Up In Glory
14 Last Great Round Up
15 Cowman's Prayer
16 The Cowboy
17 Utah Carrol
18 The Two Soldiers
19 The Wayward Daughter
20 The Prisoner's Meditation
21 The Cowboy's Meditation
22 The Last Long Horn
23 The Cowboy At Church
24 The Mormon Cowboy
Carl T. Sprague Carl Tyler Sprague was born on May 10, 1895 on his grandfather's farm near... more
"Carl T. Sprague"

Carl T. Sprague

Carl Tyler Sprague was born on May 10, 1895 on his grandfather's farm near the town of Manvel, Texas in northern Brazoria County near Houston. William T. Sprague Sr. was a native of Massachusetts and a Union Army veteran who struck out for the west in the years after the Civil War. Sprague's father, William Jr., was born in Illinois and moved, with William Sr. to Iowa where he met Carl's mother Libby. The family was in Kansas in 1878 where a sister to William Jr., Irena Maud, was born. By the early 1890s the family was in Texas.

Indications are that William Sr. and his son were farming and raising cattle on land purchased from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad which had acquired the Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe headquartered in Galveston, Texas, in 1886. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, the family was living in that area, about 37 miles northwest of Galveston. In the previously mentioned John I. White interview, Sprague said that his father's cattle business had been wiped out in the freeze of 1894 forcing William Jr. to work as a cowboy as far away as San Angelo, Texas in order to recoup his losses. Meanwhile the family remained in Manvel, living on William Sr.'s farm.

The 1900 Census also shows that five-year old Carl had an uncle married to his Aunt Irena by the name of Joseph Elijah Booth(e). Booth listed his occupation as stock raiser and it appears likely that he too was gone on a cattle drive when the census taker recorded the family's information. Only Booth's name, marital status and occupation appear on the record for that year. But he is an important part of the story for when young Carl T. Sprague was old enough to work on the trail drives it was from 'Uncle Lige' Booth that he learned the cowboy songs and poems handed down from men many of whom had been there when they were first sung.

"My uncles and I used to sit around the fire at night and sing their very same songs that cowboys sang many years before. I used to go on cattle drives with them and we'd make camp right there on the open prairie where there wasn't anything but cattle, horses, and stars," Sprague told White. Booth, who died in 1953, is buried in the Manvel, Texas city cemetery with the tombstone inscription, 'Gone but not forgotten'.

Sprague arrived in College Station in 1913 to study agriculture at Texas A&M. The school had been founded in 1878 as a land grant institution, and for Sprague, the son and grandson of ranchers and the nephew of a stock raiser, it was a natural choice. Any evidence that he sang cowboy songs for the entertainment of others prior to his enrollment in college has not surfaced. However as was the case in his later years he probably sang in church and other group gatherings. He seems to have languished in the academic field, having only attained the status of sophomore by 1917.

He hit his stride after a two year hitch in the U. S. Army Signal Corps during the First World War. Returning to Texas A&M in 1920, he graduated in the Class of 1922 with a degree in animal husbandry. During this period he was a left-handed pitcher for the baseball team and became a trainer for the football team. He was offered the trainer's position on a full-time basis upon graduation by the legendary Texas A&M and later University of Texas football coach, D. X. Bible. It was this latter assignment that earned him the sobriquet 'Doc' by which he would be known in the College Station and Bryan communities for the remainder of his life.

Sprague's interest in recording came about as a result of his hearing another Texas singer, Vernon Dalhart. Dalhart (real name, Marion Try Slaughter II) who had recorded for numerous labels, singing pop, novelty and Al Jolsonesque tunes, decided to give mountain music a try. Victor consented to record Dalhart singing The Wreck Of The Old 97 and asked him to pick a song for the B side. The song Dalhart chose was The Prisoner's Song and it was a major hit.

What sets Sprague apart from other cowboy singers of the day is that he had lived the part and dressed the part. The wearing of western apparel, especially a cowboy hat, in his publicity photographs and public appearances was the first widespread use of the cowboy image coupled with a singing performer. The image stuck and by the mid 1930s with the emergence of singing cowboys in the western movies it was firmly planted in American culture. Many hillbilly, bluegrass and country performers became 'hat acts' and dressed in cowboy attire. Though Sprague's career was brief he was the first to use the image to market his recordings...

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