Saturday, November 5, 2011

Golden Girls of the West

My trio, Raison D'Etre, has a new project. Here's the one-sheet description:

The women of the folk trio, Raison D'Etre(Violet Rae Webster, Vickie Riffe Ellis and Roberta Schultz)have never backed down from a challenge, period. Especially period music challenges. When Historic Washington, KY wanted frontier carolers, they learned holiday tunes from pre-1820. When the Cincinnati Museum Center wanted Shaker music, Civil War songs, and WWII swing tunes, they researched, arranged, and found the costumes. So when the founder of the Old West Festival wondered if they just might be able to do an hour of Old West songs, Roberta Schultz, singer, guitar player, and one of the songwriters for the trio began researching:

"In one of the first articles that I read on the popular music of the late 1800s, I was surprised that the author declared this period a dead zone in music. Lots of minstrel shows were being performed all over the East and the South. And many of these shows had newly composed songs like "Lubly Fan" which later became "Buffalo Gals" and "Wait for the Wagon" which came from a musical in the 1850s. Cowboys took these songs with them when they rode the trails of the West, along with many tunes from the Civil War and old ballads that funneled through the folk process to become cowboy songs. I didn't see a 'dead zone.' Instead, I saw a rich period in American music that paved the way for singer songwriters, Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway musicals."

Schultz's research resulted in yet another full hour of period music that Raison D'Etre performs at the Old West Festival and for libraries as Golden Girls of the West.:

"We've always enjoyed having fun with our album titles. When we recorded a sound track for a community theatre production of 'Dearly Departed,' we couldn't resist putting our baby pictures on the cover and calling the collection of Baptist hymns 'Broadman Babies' to hearken back to the show tune 'Broadway Babies' and our early church-going roots. When we did a collection of classic Christmas carols, we called it 'Christmas Belles' and asked our friend Freddie Thoman to sketch a cover of three belles in hoop shirts that were also a string of bells. Much to our delight and surprise, the sequel to the play 'Dearly Departed' was also named 'Christmas Belles'--a coincidence that only encouraged the tongue-in-cheek naming tradition. So, when we learned an entire set of Old West tunes, I remembered the sister act, Girls of the Golden West, who recorded cowgirl songs during the 1940s. It didn't take long to think of the transposition for that title. 'Golden Girls of the West' was born."

While performing the Old West tunes during the 2008 inaugural season of the Old West Festival near Williamsburg, OH, the trio found that the set was often too sad for their liking. Said Schultz, "Cowboys had a pretty hard scrabble existence, so many of the songs were about homesickness, lost loves, and death. We were wondering what we could do to the set to lift our spirits without compromising its authenticity. So, we did what we always do to add some sass to a folk music set.

We added a few songs from the swing era that were about the Old West. Cole Porter's classic, 'Don't Fence Me In" causes lots of sing alongs, plus we can really bemoan our cowgirl plight with the cheeky 'Buttons and Bows.' Add Dale Evans' wonderfully upbeat 'Happy Trails' to the end of any set, and you have the recipe for a good time."

"Golden Girls of the West" loped their way into the studio this spring to begin recording this classic set of cowgirl tunes. The result is an honest, respectful rendering of 11 Old West songs anchored by the lighthearted trio of "Hollywood cowgirl songs," as Schultz likes to call them. One Schultz original entitled "The Papers" also found its way on to the recording since it is a family story about Henry Price, a young Blackfoot who traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show to the Ohio Valley in the late 1800s. He was Violet Webster's and Roberta Schultz's great grandfather:

"My Grandma, Babe, always told me the story of how her daddy ended up in Portsmouth, OH as an indentured servant. It was an important legacy to her, and since it's part of our Old West history in this area, I thought it deserved a place on the album."


We debuted the new recording at the Old West Festival this fall to record crowds for the Festival and a few sales for us. If you'd like to hear a few authentic songs of the Old West plus some great Hollywood cowgirl tunes, I've included a link to the right and also a link to the interview Lee Hay did with me about the CD and the Festival back in September. You can buy the CD by going to the Raison D'Etre homepage(bottom link on the right.)

Happy Trails!

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