A song with the somewhat bland title “Bound for El Paso” belies one of the most imaginative and inspiring Americana releases of the year.
It is the opening track on Jamestown Revival’s latest offering, an E.P. aptly titled Fireside With Louis L’Amour, for it contains six songs based on L’Amour’s short stories found on The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour, Volume 1: Frontier Stories.
L’Amour was considered one of the great writers of westerns – he called them “frontier” stories. When he died in 1988, almost all of his 105 existing works (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction) were still in print.
Many of his stories were made into films, and have now inspired this wonderful collection of American West music, which is acoustic harmony personified in the hands of Jamestown Revival - duo Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance. Both musicians were in their early twenties when they first read L’Amour’s memoir The Education Of A Wandering Man.
“The book recounted his days as a traveller, and we couldn’t have discovered it at a more pertinent time in our lives,” the pair said in a Spotify release to promote the E.P. “You don’t have to dig very deep to find our hat tips to the late, great legend.”
And you don’t have to dig very deep to discover the delight of Fireside With Louis L’Amour. For the opener is a majestic ballad which, soothed by a soft harmonica, defines the soft, melodic fluency the pair achieve across most tracks.
“Bound for El Paso” was based on L’Amour’s short story The Gift of Cochise which in itself has a fascinating history, no novelist could invent! Shortly after it was published in 1952, it was brought to the attention of John Wayne and Robert Fellows who immediately purchased the screen rights from L’Amour for $4,000.
L’Amour did not write the screenplay – that was done by James Edward Grant who changed the main character’s name from Ches Lane to Hondo Lane. But L’Amour had maintained the rights to novelize the screenplay and when the film Hondo, starring Wayne and Geraldine Page, opened in 1953, L’Amour’s novel by the same name was published. The publicity blurb quoted Wayne saying it was “the finest Western he had ever read.” In fact, Hondo has been included in the list of the 25 Best Western Novels of all Time!
The plot for both the film and novel – best summarized in one line – is the story of a rancher played by Page who is befriended by a wandering cowboy, Wayne, as Apache Indians beset their homestead.
Jamestown Revival’s musical interpretation “Bound for El Paso” takes poetic licence with the actual story, the closest they get is this tantalizing lyrical imagery:
They circled the cabin/She stepped out to meet them/With a Winchester rifle/That kept them away/Twelve young Apaches/On Calico ponies/Leader among them/On a white paint bay
“Fool Me Once,” based on L’Amour’s “The Man From Bitter Sands,” is another great story-in-a-song , with Clay and Chance again displaying true harmony perfection to lyrics which are as equally compelling:
Fool me once/Shame on you/Fool me twice/If you want to/I will get you in the end/I am the shadow of this land/Folks call me the man from Bitter Sands
Then there is “The Ballad of Four Prisoners” which is so endearingly old-fashioned you can almost imagine some of those famous old western crooners humming it in their graves -somewhere in Texas or New Mexico!
The final track “Prospector's Blues” was released prior to the E.P. It is based on “Trap on Gold,” L’Amour’s story on the perils of gold mining. It is the most energetic, and electric, of all six songs, with a thumping melody which offers a refreshing contrast to the soft serenity of the preceding tracks.
Jamestown Revival end their publicity by saying: “We also feel it’s worthwhile to mention these songs should best be enjoyed sitting next to a fire with a nip of whiskey in the glass.”
Then again, they are still damn good stone-cold sober!
Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation