The king of the singing cowboys, genial Gene Autry starred in a bazillion silly cowboy movies ("oaters" as they were called, back then) and recorded a bazillion songs, from sentimental favorites to moonlight-on-the-trail western tunes and a few well-placed mega-hits, such as "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Back In The Saddle." There's a surprising depth and breadth to his work, though: twangsters who've written Autry off as a cornball Hollywood star might want to dig a little deeper, and find the versatile, savvy country stylist whose music has delighted generations of ardent fans. Here's a quick look at his work...
Gene Autry "Sing Cowboy Sing" (Box Set) (Rhino, 1997)
As Gomer Pyle might say, "Suhpraze, suhpraze, suhpraze!!" The singing cowboys -- B-grade movie actors who starred in the so-called "oaters," and took stilted musical cameos with guitar in hand -- get kind of a bum rap in country circles... This 3-CD set might go a long way to correcting all those negative connotations -- each disc on here is chock full of great old material. OK, so the movie cowboys weren't necessarily all that "authentic," but there are far worse things than having all them city slicker Hollywood songwriters feeding you their material. Autry had a warm, calm voice and sweet back-up bands, and he wrapped himself inside these Tin Pan Alley tunes like nobody's business. Totally worth checking out -- highly recommended.
Gene Autry "That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine" (Bear Family, 2006)
A 9-CD box set covering Autry's early years, including a lot of bluesy, raunchy material from 1928-33, the same kind of naughty-themed "hokum" blues that Jimmie Davis sang around the same era. A lot different from Autry's slicker, more sanitized Hollywood recordings... but fun as well, in a much different way!
Gene Autry "25 Cowboy Classics: The Western Collection" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
Gene Autry "Goin' Back To Texas: 25 Texas Classics" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
Gene Autry "The Cowboy Is A Patriot" (Varese Sarabande, 2002)
A great 2-CD collection of Sgt. Autry's wartime broadcasts, in which he lends the might of his "Melody Ranch" radio program to the tasks of selling bonds, recruiting soldiers and recycling scrap metals and rubber for the homefront mobilization. The first CD skillfully sifts through his wartime broadcasts, gathering choice radio announcements and one cheerful patriotic tune after another. Many of these tunes seem unique to Autry's program -- fine, but rare, examples of wartime propaganda songs. The second disc replys one of his radio shows in its entirety -- similar material, but nice to hear how it was all put together during their live shows. For Autry fans or history buffs, this collection is a doozy!
Gene Autry "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (And Other Christmas Classics)" (Sony Legacy, 2003)
How many people today even remember that it was Gene Autry who popularized the novelty song, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," lo, those many years ago, in the winter of '47? Yup -- that's right: Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, the sidesaddle showman extraordinaire... And a guy who knew how to tap into the freckle-faced zeitgeist of postwar kiddies like nobody else... This is a swell collection that gathers together a bunch of Autry's best and holiday offerings made for the Columbia label over a ten-year period in 1947-56. It's magnificently cornball material, and even if house arranger Mitch Miller popped things up a bit, I don't think Gene really minded that much. The toot-toodlin' arrangements might not seem all that "country," but for a nostalgia jolt, this can't be beat!
Gene Autry "The Essential Gene Autry" (Sony Legacy, 2005)
Like many of the old-time singing cowboys, screen star Gene Autry has long been discounted by some country snobs, who see him as too hokey to be part of the classic country canon. Too bad for those folks, though, because Autry's music is both rich in country tradition and musical show-biz savvy. Like Roy Rogers and other hayseed Hollywood harmonizers, Autry dipped liberally into jazz and swing, giving his music a nice little bounce. The songs are delightfully corny and often well-crafted, drawing on the traditions of the Tin Pan Alley composers -- this is music that was made to entertain, and it still works its magic, all these decades later. This is a nice 2-CD set that gathers material from many of the labels Autry recorded for, including Columbia, Okeh, Vocalion and a slew of smaller outfits, and spans his career from 1931, when he was still singing roughneck blues ala Jimmie Rodgers up through the early 1950s, when his success with "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" had led him to a profitable sideline singing songs for kiddies. This is an excellent collection that really does justice to the wide range of material Autry covered... Highly recommended!
Gene Autry "Hold On Little Dogies, Hold On" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "We've Come a Long Way Together" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "Rollin' Along: 1947-1952" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "Goodbye Pinto" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "Little Farm Home: 1930-1939" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "Texas Blues: Early Rare Recordings" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "A Cowboy's Serenade" (BACM, 2005)
Gene Autry "Private Buckaroo" (Binge Disc/Bronco Buster)
Gene Autry "The Life Of Jimmie Rodgers" (Binge Disc/Bronco Buster)
Groovy old material from back when he was known as "Yodeling Gene Autry"... You know it's gotta be good!
Gene Autry "Hillbilly And Western Rhythm" (Binge Disc/Bronco Buster)
Hick Music Index