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Home News Texas Trails Texas Trails: The First of the Singing Cowboys

Texas Trails: The First of the Singing Cowboys

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Aug. 23, 2012 - Born to a family of cattlemen in Brazoria County in 1895, Carl T. Sprague was a real cowboy, a real athletic trainer, a real businessman and the first singing cowboy to have his songs recorded. Other singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Tex Ritther (both Texans) became rich and famous, but Sprague was the first to get his songs "on wax."

Sprague learned cowboy songs in a way that people don't learn cowboy songs anymore. "My uncles and I used to sit around the fire at night and sing the very same songs that cowboys sang many years before," he told music historian John I. White, who interviewed Sprague for his 1972 book "Git Along Little Doggies: Songs and Songmakers of the American West." "I used to go on cattle drives with them, and we'd make camp right there on the open prairie where there wasn't anything but cattle, horses and stars. That's where I learned my songs, from real cowboys."

Sprague served a two year hitch with the Army Signal Corps and was stationed in France during World War I. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1922 with a degree in animal husbandry and every intention of becoming a rancher but Aggie football coach Dana X. Bible, persuaded him to stay on as a member of the athletic department. He was 30 years old and eight years into his career as an athletic trainer when he heard Vernon Dalhart singing "The Prisoner's Song," one of the first "country" recordings on the radio. Sprague decided to add the western to the country and went to the Victor Recording Studio in Camden, New Jersey with his guitar and dozens of cowboy songs he learned from his uncles.

Of the 10 songs he recorded for Victor in 1925, six were released as 78 rpm records. The most popular of the bunch was "When the Work's All Done This Fall," which tells the sad but not uncommon story of a young cowboy killed in a stampede. That song sold casino internet more than 900,000 copies.

In those days, cowboy singers didn't receive royalties on their recordings. They were paid $75 per side, unless they wrote or ?????????? otherwise had something to do with the song other than singing it. Sprague didn't make as much money as many of the singing cowboys who followed in his footsteps, but caca-niqueis he did sufficiently rearrange "When the Work's All Done This Fall" to receive songwriting royalties on that song and about half of the two dozen songs he recorded for Victor over casino online netherlands the next five years.

Two years after Sprague's final Victor recording session in 1929, Gene Autry, who grew up working on ranches in Texas and Oklahoma, recorded "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine" for the American Record slots Corporation. The song was one of the biggest kasyna hits of the 1930s and launched Autry's career, which soon came to include movies. His first film, casino internet "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" in 1935, turned him into a bona fide superstar. Fame and fortune followed.

Autry sang in the movies, of course -- it's part of the "singing cowboy" job description -- but most of the songs in his movies were penned by the songwriters-for-hire of Tin Pan Alley. The cowboy outfits he wore on screen bore little resemblance to anything Carl Sprague's uncles would have recognized as cowboy gear.

Tex Ritter, unlike Sprague and Autry, did not grow up on a ranch but he did grow up in Texas and he loved cowboy songs. He followed Autry into the movies but was never the movie star that Autry was, though he continued to be a popular recording artist for decades and often exhibited a deep appreciation for the kind of songs that Sprague first introduced to the public.

As for Sprague, he stayed in the Bryan-College Station area even after he left the athletic staff at A&M. He ran a gas station and grocery store for a few years and sold insurance for many years. An active member of the Army reserve, he pulled recruiting and induction duty for the army during World War II and worked for the Veteran's Administration in Dallas for three years after that.

Along the way, new generations discovered Sprague's songs. RCA Victor included three of his songs on the LP "Authentic Cowboys and their Western Songs" in 1965. He appeared at some folk festivals and at universitites in California and Illinois to talk about the cowboy's contribution to American music.

Sprague died in 1979 but his music has lived on. An anthology CD titled "Cowtrails, Longhorns, and Tight Saddles: Cowboy Songs 1925-29" was released in 2003 on the Bear Family label. There have been more popular singing cowboys than Carl T. Sprague, but none who were more authentic.

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