Tin Pan Alley had a long tradition of “cowboy” songs written by fellows who had never been west of the Hudson.
Early in the Twentieth Century, the trend had been towards the boisterous, with such songs as “San Antonio”,”Pony Boy” and “Cheyene”. Cartoon fans might recognize some of these songs from their use in various cartoons. For instance, “Cheyenne” was a favorite of Carl Stalling at Warner Bros.
But in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the trend was towards the more sentimental melody.
There had already been: “The Last Round-Up” (1933), “Ole Faithful (1934), “Empty Saddles” (1936), “Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride” (1938), and Cole Porter’s gentle spoof of he whole shootin’-match, “Don’t Fence Me In” (1944)–among others.
So, when Walt Disney’s music people–and, presumably the Santly-Joy publishing firm (who were handling Disney’s interests in the days before Wonderland Music was established),–decided that a “cowboy ballad” was required for the “Pecos Bill” section of Melody Time, their new “package” picture, they knew what to do.
Hollywood-based Eliot Daniel–a lot closer, geographically, to cowboy country than the usual denizen of Tin Pan Alley–got the commission, and produced “Blue Shadows On The Trail” for the intended purpose.
By any measure, the song was a reasonable success–even if its placing on the charts kept by “Billboard” and “Cash Box” would suggest otherwise.
RCA Victor was especially interested in this song. During the same month, they issued two versions of it.
One was aimed at the country music crowd. It featured Roy Rogers, along with the Sons of the Pioneers. The tune proved a perfect fit for them. And they proved a perfect fit for each other. And why not?
Back when Roy Rogers was going under his real name of Leonard Slye, he was a member of the Sons of the Pioneers. And, even after he left to become a star at Republic Pictures, his relations with the group were still quite amicable.
RCA’s other cover of this song was in the popular vein. Vaughn Monroe got the call, and “Ol’ Leather Lungs” answered with a hit record, which just missed the Top Twenty on the “Billboard” chart of best-selling records.
Monroe had competition, from the biggest name in the music business. Decca released a version of this tune, as sung by Bing Crosby. Bing was no stranger to “cowboy ballads’, having sung many of hem on records,and on his various radio shows.
Bing’s Decca record also got into the Top Thirty on “Billboard”‘s charts. A pity it is that today, Bing’s warm and golden voice is head only between Black Friday and Boxing Day.
“Blue Shadows On The Trail” was also all over the airwaves during the spring and summer of 1948. Bing performed it on his recorded ABC program “Philco Radio Time”. Buddy Clark sang it on a “Spike Jones Show”, where Clark was the guest. Dinah Shore gave it a try. Rising operetta baritone Gordon MacRae gave it a ride on the air. Even Irish tenor Morton Downey (father of the pugnacious talk-show host) sang it on a syndicated, transcribed show that he still had.
The song was well-remembered, and not just by Disney’s music department. In 1958, British pop singer Michael Holiday sang it on one of his television shows. And the Sons of the Pioneers recorded this song again, for he stereo album “Cool Water”. I won’t even mention The Three Amigos…
All of which is in marked contrast to the other song featured in this part of Melody Time… which we will cover next week.