Red River Valley (song)

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"Red River Valley"
Bright Sherman Valley, Cowboy Love Song
Recorded byCarl T. Sprague
Performed byRed River Dave
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"Red River Valley"
Bright Sherman Valley, Cowboy Love Song
Recorded byCarl T. Sprague
Performed byRed River Dave

Red River Valley is a folk song and cowboy music standard of controversial origins that has gone by different names—e.g., "Cowboy Love Song", "Bright Sherman Valley", "Bright Laurel Valley", "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", and "Bright Little Valley"—depending on where it has been sung. It is listed as Roud Folk Song Index 756, and by Edith Fowke as FO 13. It is recognizable by its chorus (with several variations):

From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.
So come sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the cowboy that has loved you so true.


Origins [edit]

Edith Fowke offers anecdotal evidence that the song was known in at least five Canadian provinces before 1896.[1] This finding led to speculation that the song was composed at the time of the Wolseley Expedition to the northern Red River Valley of 1870 in Manitoba. It expresses the sorrow of a local man or woman (possibly a Métis, meaning of French and aboriginal origin) as her soldier/lover prepares to return to Ontario or as his girlfriend or wife can't take the harsh life in the west and leaves him to return to Canada.

The earliest written manuscript of the lyrics, titled "Red River Valley", bears the notations 1879 and 1885 in locations Nemha and Harlan in western Iowa, so it probably dates to at least that era.[2]

The song appears in sheet music, titled "In the Bright Mohawk Valley", printed in New York in 1896 with James J. Kerrigan as the writer.[3]

In 1925, Carl T. Sprague, an early singing cowboy from Texas, recorded it as "Cowboy Love Song" (Victor 20067, August 5, 1925), but it was fellow Texan Jules Verne Allen's 1929 "Cowboy's Love Song" (Victor 40167, March 28, 1929), that gave the song its greatest popularity. Allen himself thought the song was from Pennsylvania, perhaps brought over from Europe.[4]

Recordings/ Performances [edit]

"Red River Rock"
Single by Johnny and the Hurricanes
from the album Johnny & the Hurricanes
ReleasedJuly 1959 (1959-07)
GenreRock and roll

Kelly Harrell recorded "Red River Valley" under the title "Bright Sherman Valley" (Victor 20527 9 June 1926).

Woody Guthrie recorded "Red River Valley" for Asch Recordings 19 April 1944. Guthrie also recorded for Asch the Spanish Civil War version, "Jarama Valley".

Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing recorded a version in the late 1940s.

In the 1950s Peter Pan Records issued "Red River Valley" on an extended play 45 which also featured "The Arkansas Traveler" and on the other side "My Grandfather's Clock" and "The Syncopated Clock".

Jo Stafford and the Starlighters released a version in October in 1949. Stafford re-recorded the song for her 1953 Starring Jo Stafford album.

Johnny and the Hurricanes recorded a rock and roll instrumental version in 1959 of the song entitled "Red River Rock" which became a hit in both the U.S. (#5) and in the UK (#3). It was covered by the Ventures for their 1963 album The Ventures Play Telstar and The Lonely Bull. An electronic rendition was recorded by Silicon Teens, and featured in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.[5]

The tune of "Red River Valley" was used for the verses of the 1963 Connie Francis hit "Drownin' My Sorrows" (#36).[6] Francis had recorded "Red River Valley" for her 1961 album release Connie Francis Sings Folk Song Favorites with the track subsequently being featured on the 1964 Connie Francis album In the Summer of His Years. "Drownin' My Sorrows" was covered in German as "Ich tausche mit keinem auf der Welt" in 1964 by Margot Eskens and in Croatian as "Uz Tebe Sam Sretna" in 1968 by Ana Štefok.

"Jarama Valley", a song about the Battle of Jarama of the Spanish Civil War, used the tune to "Red River Valley". It was recorded by Woody Guthrie and The Almanac Singers, featuring Pete Seeger.

The premier Czech vocalist Helena Vondráčková made her recording debut in September 1964 with "Červená řeka", a rendering of "Red River Valley".

Swedish singer Sven-Gösta Jonsson recorded a Swedish version titled Vid foten av fjället (By the foot of the mountain).

The tune to "Red River Valley", set to new lyrics and entitled "Can I Sleep In Your Arms", was used on Willie Nelson's 1975 album Red Headed Stranger.

Slim Whitman's version was included on his 1977 #1 UK album Red River Valley.

"Red River Valley" has also been recorded by Roy Acuff, Arlo Guthrie, Lynn Anderson, the Andrews Sisters, Eddy Arnold, Gene Autry, Moe Bandy, Johnny Bond, Boxcar Willie, Elton Britt, Josephine Cameron, John Darnielle, Foster & Allen, Larry Groce, the McGuire Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Michael Martin Murphey, Johnnie Ray, Riders in the Sky, Riders of the Purple Sage, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Rogers, Pete Seeger, the Sons of the Pioneers, Billy Walker, Roger Whittaker, Cassandra Wilson and Glenn Yarbrough.

Johnny Cash wrote and performed a humorous song entitled "Please Don't Play Red River Valley" for his 1966 album Everybody Loves a Nut.

Leonard Cohen, a lifelong country music enthusiast, has been recorded playing the song live in concert.

A version of this song is featured on "Songs of the West," recorded by the Norman Luboff Choir.

The song and tune have been used in numerous films. It was particularly memorable in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, whose tale of displaced Oklahomans associated it with the southern Red River. Another film it had important - but more subtle - usage in was The Last Picture Show, a film about the internal decay of small town Texas in the early 1950s.

WW2 British Paratroopers used the tune, with the fatalistic chorus -

So come stand by the bar with your glasses,
Drink a toast of the men of the sky,
Drink a toast to the men dead already,

Sung by Dana Delany in the 1994 film Tombstone, though not in its entirety.

Chris Isaak and Stevie Nicks performed a duet of the song on the Chris Isaak Hour.

Bibliography [edit]

References [edit]

  1. ^ Fowke, Edith (1964). "'The Red River Valley' Re-Examined". Western Folklore: 163–171. 
  2. ^ Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music, p. 457: "A pencil manuscript of the words of The Red River valley bears the notation at the bottom 'Nemha 1879, Harlan 1885' and sets forth five stanzas. The University of Iowa, Iowas City, Iowa (Edwin Ford Piper Collection). Nemah and Harlan are towns in western Iowa."
  3. ^ Kerrigan, "In The Bright Mohawk Valley".
  4. ^ Allen, "Singings Along", p. 83: "The song, 'Red River Valley,' comes from Pennsylvania, possibly brought there by early settlers and has been made over to suit the locale."
  5. ^ Planes, Trains and Automobiles at
  6. ^ Billboard Vol. 75 #29 (July 20, 1963) p.4

External links [edit]