Stories Behind the Song

storiesbehindsongThe English language may not have enough words of praise to adequately describe a man of Roy Rogers’ character. His movie, TV and musical accomplish-ments alone made him a public figure of mythical proportions, and although he was one of our brightest superstars, he remained humble and generous his entire life.

Crowned “King of the Cowboys” in 1943, Roy Rogers was our silver screen hero because he was handsome, kind and genuine—a real straight shooter. He offered a vision of the best that was possible in each of us, whether we were parents, youngsters or cowboys. By 1950, more than 2,000 Roy Rogers fan clubs spanned the globe, including one in London with 50,000 members, making it the largest fan club on the planet at that time. In America, 80 million of the 150 million population had viewed Roy’s action-packed Westerns.

I know forever in many hearts he’ll reign. As the King of the Cowboys, there is honor to his name.

Roy and Dale’s oldest son, Dusty, sang off and on with his famous parents at state fairs and rodeos from the time he was five. He gave it up for a few years but went back on the road with them during the 1960s-70s.

One day, while rehearsing with his band, the High Riders, Dusty decided it was time he wrote a song for his father. Roy’s health had become fragile, and Dusty wasn’t sure how much longer his dad would be with the family. That day, Dusty partnered up with band mate Larry Carney to write the song.

The first task: figure out what to rhyme with “Rogers.” For hours, they tried to arouse their poetic selves, but nothing clicked. At the end of the day, they gave up in exasperation. Dusty was determined  he wouldn’t be stuck with “codgers” or “dodgers,” not fitting choices for a tribute song to his father.

Yet inspiration struck him that night. Forget about rhyming Rogers. He should just write about what his father meant to him and to the rest of the world. “Everyone knows who he is; he’s the King of the Cowboys, so we don’t need his name,” he told himself.

He sold Larry on the concept and named the song “King of the Cowboys.” Now they faced the difficult task of writing a song about someone whose life was an open book to pretty much everyone. Roy and Dale’s life stories had been in every TV and movie magazine from the time Dusty was born! The duo decided to write lyrics centered on icons people associated with Roy—his saddle, white hat, spurs and golden horse—rather than tell a story about him. Once they put that idea in motion, they had written the song within a half hour.

Saddled up on his golden palomino with a six-gun by each side. In his boots and spurs and his white hat rides a man with a lot of pride.

Dusty and his High Riders first performed “King of the Cowboys” at a concert for Roy and Dale at the convention center in the Rogers’ hometown of Victorville, California. Roy and Dale were in the front row at the show.

“Keep in mind,” Dusty said softly, “dad was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. As long as he was doing something for someone else, he was comfortable. But when someone did something personal for him, it made him very emotional—especially in his later years, when people would tell him how much one of his acts of kindness had meant to them. People often shared touching childhood memories of Roy hanging his pistols on their hospital bedposts, promising them that when they got well and got out, he would make sure they got a set of those pistols.”

He’s a kind and gentle legend. A hero is his fame. Showin’ young folks to see the right from wrong. And he’s taught me the very same.

When you’re a man that tenderhearted, sitting in a crowd, not knowing what’s coming, and your son goes on stage and performs a tribute song to you, it’s bound to break you up. As Dusty sang his song, Roy struggled to fight back his tears. Dusty could see he was crying, then he had to try not to cry, too. The crowd went wild; Roy simply sobbed.

To this day, Dusty never closes a show without performing “King of the Cowboys.” Although singing his signature song is still emotionally difficult for him, Dusty admits it’s hardest for him to sing it during performances on Father’s Day or Roy’s birthday or, sadder still, the anniversary of his father’s death.

Together 25 years, the High Riders have recorded a number of albums since then. Dusty is considering recording a gospel album followed by another Western music project. His recording of “King of the Cowboys” is a track on one of my favorite albums, Roy Rogers Tribute, a 1991 recording of 79-year-old Roy singing with Randy Travis, Clint Black, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, K.T. Oslin and other fans of his. He’d pass away seven years later.

He has given us precious memories and Happy Trails for me and you.

Related Posts

  • storiesbehindsong

    During a recording project in Evergreen, Colorado, several years back, Jon Chandler approached a subject…

  • storiesbehindsong

    During a recording project in Evergreen, Colorado, several years back, Jon Chandler approached a subject…

  • eleven_stories_bruce_robison

    Texas songster Bruce Robison makes music that slips on all soft and comfortable, like a…