"The Stranger Went Free, Of Course"
As a stocky, only child, city kid, I always dreaded the trolley ride with my Mom to buy the new school year's jeans, sized husky. The offsetting balance to the husky aisle was that I would also get a couple of new pearl snap cowboy shirts.
Home again, in old jeans and a new shirt, I would become Roy (Trigger) or Gene (Champion) or Hopalong (Topper), and sometimes Randolph (Stardust). My parents still favored Tom Mix (Tony) or Tex Ritter (White Flash) and although theatre movies trumped television, the Lone Ranger (Silver) and Tonto (Scout) gained ground when we got the second television set in the neighborhood. Though they did not wear the husky sizes, my cowboy heroes also all wore new shirts with pearl snaps for buttons and cuffs.
Emily, three houses away, became my Dale Evans (Buttermilk) and we could easily run through four rolls of caps in an afternoon. I was a cowboy.
I crested the hill, and the wide dusty swale below contained the shallow Medina River. I squinted into a gunfighter's sunset and the next hill silhouetted Bandera, Texas, the home of cowboys and outlaws.
No longer would my heroes wear brightly toned shirts with matching piping -no pearl snaps - no longer closely shaved with neatly parted hair, and never again would their hats be white. I was still the same kid, older and my cowboys were now tanned, leather skinned, bearded, sweaty, dusty and dirty. They had been Peckinpahed.
As I crossed the bridge into Bandera, it was my turn to direct. I gave Jackson an ears up when I yelled, "Places everyone!"
First, I had to visually erase the Gonzales Heating and Air sign. Then I blocked out the Harley parked at forty five degrees in front of the the first saloon. I kept the riffs of a loud lead guitar, but eliminated a neon Corona clock.
Bandera became the movie setting for my favorite western lyrics,
The Red Headed Stranger
The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana
Rode into town one day;
And under his knees was a raging black stallion
And walking behind was a bay.
The red-headed stranger had eyes like thunder
His lips they were sad and tight;
His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside
And his heart was heavy as night.
A yellow-haired lady leaned out of her window,
And watched as he passed her way.
She drew back in fear at the sight of the stallion
But cast greedy eyes on the bay;
But how could she know that this dancing bay pony
Meant more to him than life?
For this was the horse that his little lost darling
Had ridden when she was his wife.
The yellow-haired lady came down to the tavern,
Looked up the stranger there;
He bought her a drink, he gave her some money
He just didn't seem to care.
She followed him out as he saddled the stallion,
And laughed as she grabbed at the bay;
He shot her so quick they had no time to warn her,
She never heard anyone say:
Don't cross him, don't boss him, he's wild in his sorrow,
He's riding and hiding his pain;
Don't fight him, don't spite him, just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he'll ride on again.
The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
The stranger went free, of course,
'For you can't hang a man for killing a woman
Whose trying to steal your horse.
This is the tale of the red-headed stranger
And if he should pass your way,
Stay out of the path of the raging black stallion
And don't lay a hand on the bay.
Satisfied, I finished, "Cut! That's a wrap!"
With my directing debut complete, I stopped to enjoy some of the old buildings, let Jackson pee on a hitching post, and when leaving Bandera, laughed as I once again passed Gonzales Heating and Air and read the sign's tag line, "Since 1997."
With each line of the lyrics, I completed my fantasy of producing and directing the The Red Headed Stranger story. Many years before Willie Nelson and band came to our small town. The night before the concert we were groupies in the lounge at the Mission Hills Resort. The entourage, sans Willie, arrived just minutes before last call. With the band restless with only one drink, my wife, Barbara, asked the bartender to call the owner, a friend of ours. She was able to influence the sleepy owner to empower the bartender and keep the lounge open long enough for Willie's band to fully water their thirst. While she was receiving cheers from the band, I was debating SEC versus Southwest Conference football with an entourage member in an orange "hook 'em horns" jersey. Turns out, he was Willie's personal manager, BC. BC, grateful while sipping his fourth drink, invited us to ride with Willie's caravan into the fair grounds the next day. Barbara had lunch on the bus with sister Bobbie and Willie, and I drank cold, band beer and we enjoyed the concert back and side stage with BC. It was during the chorus of Red Headed Stranger that I told BC that I would love to produce a movie of the song. He chuckled, and said that the movie was already in the final stages of planning.
It was made, but it wasn't Peckinpahed, not like I, the cowboy, would have directed.
Red Headed Stranger Album:
- Copyright: (P) 1975, 1986, 2000 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
- The Red Headed Stranger - recorded by Willie Nelson - written by Edith Linderman and Carl Stutz
Bandera - an instrumental by Willie Nelson - written by Carla Bozulich