Cowboys didn’t make this book.
It was up to the Belwin Company of Rockville Centre, Long Island to do it. Seemingly removed from the Wild West and the center of the publishing world in New York City, Belwin published John W. Schaum’s The Cowboy Book in 1955, a “solo piano album for the young student”. Apparently there were others, like the “Gay Nineties Book” and the “Girl’s Book”.
Not to judge a book by its cover, but these were publications of public domain melodies by forgotten or unknown composers and lyricists. As a matter of fact, only 2 of the 16 scores in my edition of The Cowboy Book mention an author at all. If we can trust the publisher, these are the songs of yore, when the West was wild and shrouded in the mists of our collective memory. So, this is open source music before there were copyrights and attributions.
Like most song melodies, these are very similar to each other, so each newly “invented” song sounded at once familiar and true. Indeed nothing is new here, no individual author brands any kind of ownership on them. Each song seems a imperfectly recollected or randomly mutated variation of some Urgestalt, something that expresses a true emotion. At least as far as cowboys are concerned.
I acquired my copy of The Cowboy Book at a thrift store near Denver, Colorado, which makes this not more authentic but my copy has handwritten dates throughout. Guessing from the mature script, these were probably written by the piano teacher to mark the exact date a young student started to practice each piece. They all date from 1967.
The Cowboy Book represents yet another stylistic novelty or method of composition which I broadly term Americana: endless randomly-mutated Iterations of collective or common material. This is a quest for the illustrious, first, original, primordial substance or archetype of human music.
|The Cowboy Book
|E. Gabler & Bros. baby grand piano