As American as apple pie, the cowboy is a universal symbol marking the Wild West spirit of the United States. While life on the ranch isn’t nearly as fancy or glamorous as Hollywood might have portrayed it, die-hard cowboys and cowgirls wouldn’t trade their “plain” lives for any amount of riches. Country music is as familiar to a cowboy as his own worn saddle, and the idea of the “singing cowboy” came to life through the powerful voices of greats including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter. Today’s country singers and songwriters may not sound the same as those legendary artists, but they’re blazing a trail in their own fashion. Songs about cowboys have always been popular, but few moreso than those glorifying the highs and lows of rodeo.
The first single by the country music legend, “Much Too Young” is a testament to the bumps, lumps and bruises suffered by many rodeo contestants. “Much Too Young” mentioned Chris LeDoux, another singer famous for his ramblings about life on the circuit, boosting LeDoux back into the musical spotlight. Garth recorded a number of songs dedicated to the cowboy and rodeos, but this one remains at the top of the list for many people because it introduced the world to this incredible artist.
Speaking of the infamous Chris LeDoux, his song “This Cowboy’s Hat” makes a powerful statement about the strength of a cowboy. The old hand in the story is ridiculed in a bar by a man who knows nothing of his past, but is determined to take his hat. LeDoux sings of the heartfelt mementos the hat possesses, and warns the heckler that he won’t escape unscathed if he pushes the issue. Even though the men are from drastically different cultures, they earn a newfound respect for each other at the end of the tune.
LeDoux and Brooks couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work together, and this song was the perfect opportunity. The fun song speaks to the messy, disorganized, and sometimes irritating aloofness of many cowboys and entices the listener to think about, “Whatcha gonna do with a cowboy, when he don’t saddle up and ride away?” There really is no set answer, and the two musical powerhouses leave it to you to decide.
This song speaks volumes to all the ladies on the rodeo circuit. Every little cowgirl falls off and eats dirt a time or two, and their daddies often tell them to be brave and get back up because cowgirls don’t cry. This song conveys that message well, following the little girl into adulthood and through a failed marriage. Her daddy is still there to protect her and keep her safe, telling her to be strong. Flash forward to a phone call explaining her daddy’s illness and impending passing, and she tearfully reminds him that she’ll be ok because cowgirls don’t cry.
If any song speaks to the true difficulties of the cowboy life, this is it. Originally written by Ed Bruce and performed live by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson at Farm Aid in 1986, this song outlines all the ugly details of being a cowboy. It’s become somewhat of an anthem for rowdy crowds, enticing cheers and whistles at performances to this day. This song sums up cowboys and their lifestyle in impressive fashion, with lines such as, “Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings” a glowing testament to life for rugged, hard-working, hard-loving cowboys.