Monday, May 18, 2020

A Country Music Memory - 1949 and 1985 by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #classiccountry #cowboysongs

May 8, 1949 and May 2, 1985 have a musical event in common 

The same song was released by Vaughn Monroe (1949) and the Highwaymen (1985).

It was written and recorded by Stan Jones, and he released his recording of this song on June 5, 1948.

This song is often referred to as the ‘Number 1 country music song of all time’*. The song is...

 Ghost Riders in the Sky

There are numerous renditions of this song, some more memorable than others. Besides Stan Jones, Vaughn Monroe, and the Highwaymen, here are other artists from across the musical spectrum who have recorded this song.

Bing Crosby – Frankie Laine – Eddie Arnold – Peggy Lee – Duane Eddy – Sons of the Pioneers – Judy Collins –  Roy Clark – Lawrence Welk – Baja Marimba Band – Tom Jones – R.E.M. –  Elvis Presley – Blues Brothers – Chris LeDoux – Dean Martin – Marty Robbins – Spiderbait (in the Nicholas Cage and Sam Elliott movie, Ghost Rider) and Christopher Lee (Some ideas are best left unfulfilled. It's a groaner. Look it up on YouTube.)

My favorite cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky is by Marty Robbins.  

Vaughn Monroe - His version reached No. 1 on Chart Toppers (pop chart).

Highwaymen - Ghost Riders in the Sky

 Historical roots of Ghost Riders in the Sky

The legend of the ghost rider has its roots in Europe, particularly Britanny, Ireland, Wales, Scandinavia, Spain, France, and Germany. Jacob Grimm of the fairy tales Brothers Grimm, developed the idea of the ‘wild hunt’ through comparative mythology that he published as Deutsche Mythologie (1835).

The warrior-leaders most associated with some form and version of the Wild Hunt are Wodin, Wodan, Odin, Herne the Hunter, King Arthur, and Old Nick. A few modern works of literature that use the Wild Hunt myth as part of the story are Sir Artur Conan Doyles The Hound of the Baskervilles, William Butler Yeats1893 poem The Hosting of the Sidhe, and Susan Cooper’s 1973 book series The Dark is Rising.

The Wild Hunt: Asgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo
There are also comic books, movies, and operas with the wild hunt/ghost rider theme woven throughout or as the predominate story line. I’ve read that Ghostriders in the Sky was the inspiration for the song Riders on the Storm by the Doors.
My novel, The Gunfighter's Woman, is a paranormal western romance inspired by this legend and the song. I incorporated the wild hunt in the form of the cowboy ghost riders as a motivating force in the hero's life to change his ways before it’s too late. The ghost herd shows up in the following excerpt.


“We have to leave. Your horse is still on the other side. We can ride my horse to the ranch.” Brenna pointed to her horse, Samson, and immediately felt silly for the gesture since the man’s eyes were clamped shut in a grimace of teeth-gritted pain.]

Lightning slashed the sky with an explosion of thunder that shook air and Earth and deafened ears. The man came off the ground in a lunge, feet planted wide, and his attention fixed on the black billowing cloud bank rolling along McBride Mesa to the west. Mesmerized, Brenna stared at the clouds as they transformed into a mighty herd of cattle stampeding along the mesa’s rim. As she watched, the herd curved east, dipping low along the ancient stone wall and then soaring into the sky. The herd doubled-back with the sinuous motion of a Chinese dragon in an undulating journey from ground to towering clouds and back down again.

On the second pass, the cloud-herd swung south and swooped down from Trinchera Pass, passing overhead on a blast of scorching wind. Brenna flinched and ducked as the lead steers overtook them. Samson snorted, bolted, but she held fast to his reins. Eyes blazing with the fires of Hell, the herd pounded the air with steely hooves on peal after peal of thunder as it swung out north across the prairie to come charging low over Pine Canyon on the east.

Then, the clouds split open into a sandy ravine that cut a wide, ragged path to a range in the heavens. Brenna felt their breath in a whoosh of hot wind and saw their black horns glistening and brands flaming with each lightning blaze as the ghost herd plowed up that draw.

“No! Not going. They’re not taking me!”

“What is that?”

The man snaked an arm around Brenna’s waist and tossed her to the saddle then swung up behind her. “Hang on!” Clamping one arm around her middle, he grabbed the saddle horn with his other hand, and slapped spurs to Samson.

The horse reared, leaped, and came down at a dead run, ears flattened against his head, and his neck stretched out. A mournful, skin-prickling cry cut through the air. Hot wind whipped their clothes; lightning-scorched air left an acrid sulphur stench in its wake. Brenna twisted to look behind. The sight coming at them was terrifying and fascinating.

Hurdling from the midst of the churning maelstrom of boiling black clouds came spectral cowboys riding hard and fast after the phantom herd on hollow-eyed, fire-snorting skeleton horses pawing the air as they roared toward them. A low keening wail rose on the wind.

Matthewwwww Matthewwwww Caddockkkkkkk.

The man warned, “Close your eyes! Don’t look!”

But Brenna couldn’t look away from the spectral cowboys charging over them, their gaunt eyes staring from fire-flaming faces as they swung around and away in their relentless pursuit of the ghost herd. Rain burst from the clouds; hail peppered down. A blast of frigid wind hit them broadside... 

The Gunfighter’s Woman

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Stay in contact with Kaye—

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Resources and Further Reading:
*Stan Jones -

Megalithic Myths -

Image of The Wild Hunt: Peter Nicolai Arbo artist QS:P170,Q353014, La caza salvaje de Odín, por Peter Nicolai Arbo, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons


  1. A haunting and classic song you put to good use in your story. Love the song, and the story you wrote. One of my favorite is the 1949 version by Burl Ives, but then I've always been a fan of his work. Doris

    1. I like Burl Ives' version, also, and him. The Christopher Lee and Bing Crosby versions aren't very good. Dean Martin pulled it off, but I love his voice anyway. Tom Jones put his own touch on the song, and it's pretty good.

  2. Kaye, I loved Susan Cooper's series. I read that with the kids and we all just loved it so much!

    This song used to deliciously scare the pants off me when I was little. I had a little red record player and the Vaughn Monroe version and I wore that thing slick. How well I remember my mom, standing in the kitchen fixing dinner, calling out, "Cheryl...let's play something else for a while..." LOL I loved your story based on this song, too, Kaye. Really did enjoy it!

    1. I loved Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books, too. I haven't read them in years. Maybe we should re-read them this summer and talk about them. *wink* You've got to listen to Christopher Lee's version. It's so awful it's good. lol

    2. YES! We do need to do that. It's been years since I read those books, and they were just wonderful. OK, I gotta go listen to Christopher Lee's version now...

    3. Christopher Lee... Love him, but whoever thought he should sing (ahem) Ghost Riders in the Sky was drinking their bath water.

  3. My favorite version is the one by Sons Of The Pioneers.
    Excellent excerpt and a great hook.

    1. Sons of the Pioneers are golden. I love their singing. Thank you for stopping in and commenting.