I like country and western music. I like traditional C&W, most of all. I, therefore, like the music of a young man from Saskatchewan by the name of Colter Wall.
Colter Wall hails from Speedy Creek, Sask. and comes good stock, his father was the premier of Saskatchewan from 2007-2018. Colter started his musical journey listening to AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and learning to play their songs on guitar. A few years later Colter heard Bob Dylan singing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, and that song sent him spinning off away from classic rock to classic folk music. He listened to the likes of Woody Guthrie, Dylan’s primary influencer, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who was also heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie as well as Dylan himself thus coming full circle.
Colter was also really into the music of Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams. Wow, that would be a mind-bending concert lineup. I also might add that I have featured most of these artists on my turntable recently, which should come as no surprise given my fondness for classic country music. Colter Wall has also been on my iTunes turntable, and I can’t get my hands on his vinyl for various reasons.
Colter sings songs of your typical fodder. Lost loves is a given of course, no matter what genre you sing in, and Colter adds the song, “Kate McCannon”, reminiscent of early folk and bluegrass. He knows how to write a smart catch phrase. A good example is from the song “You Look To Yours” on his eponymous album:
“Two folks in our condition
We’ll never leave this bar room with our pride
So go about your earthly mission
Don’t trust no politicians
You look to yours and I will look to mine”
He gets a little jab in towards his Dad in the middle of a brilliant turn of phrase.
From the same album, Colter throws in a cover song, a tribute to one of his influencers, Townes Van Zandt. The song is “Fraulein” which is a vintage C&W song written by Lawton Williams and initially released in 1957 by Bobby Helms. “Fraulein” is a standard of the genre with cover versions from the likes of Stonewall Jackson, Hank Snow (I’m partial to this one), and Chuck Berry even took a swipe at it and created what I consider a waste of good vinyl.
Fast forward to 2018 and Colter Wall released his sophomore recording “Songs of the Plains”. After being on the road doing shows from the east to the west coast and many stops in between, Colter laments that he is homesick for the wheat fields of southern Saskatchewan.
The second track of this album has a song titled “Saskatchewan 1881”. Be it 1881 or 2018; the sentiment is the same, the “Toronto man” is looking to profit off of the sweat from the brow of the prairie men and women. The song also cautions us not to be “pickin’ fights with no Mennonites”, a sentiment that Corb Lund levelled at another prairie staple, the Hutterites.
“Well it was truck after truck, we all got stuck
‘Cept the big old four by Hutterite truck
We all thought “Lord, are we in luck!”
But he wouldn’t come anywhere near us
Mighty neighbourly, mighty neighbourly”
The songs of Corb Lund and Colter Wall intersect many times which is no surprise what them being two prairie lads. Corb laments the passing of time on the song “We Used To Ride ’em”.
The wind still blows the dust across the exhibition grounds
The chute still creaks and moans and echoes saddle broncin’ sounds
The horses all wound up the same as the ones that came before
But we don’t ride ’em anymore”
I don’t ride ’em anymore either, and I shed a tear because “The Trains Are Gone” and with them the castle spires of the prairies, the elevators that announced what town you were driving through in bright, bold letters on their sides.
“The trains are gone, the trains are gone
Spent like the coal they once rolled on
The rails don’t hum, the ‘bos don’t bunk
No brake-men yodelin’ those rail yard songs”
Railway tracks crisscrossed through my family with uncles that worked the rails for their whole lives and others like myself that only achieved a brief taste of that way of life.
The remainder of Colter Wall’s album “Songs of the Prairies” continues the theme of flat land livin’. Fast forward to 2020 and Colter Wall delivers another suburb album, “Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs”. That is one excellent album title and opens the album with an equally excellent song about just that.
This album also graces us with a couple of cover songs, “Big Iron” by the quintessential cowboy singer, Marty Robbins. Colter Wall doesn’t veer too far away from the original and Colter Wall delivers the lyrics smoothly with his baritone voice. He follows this gunfighter song with a tribute to two names that are eponymous with guns, Henry and Sam, a reference to the 16-shot repeating rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry and Samuel Colt.
A tip of the hat to his mentor, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, follows with the mysterious song “Diamond Joe”. Diamond Joe has quite an interesting back story, and you can read about it here: https://nativeground.com/diamond-joe/
Next up is “High and Mighty” a song that is about as country and nearly as cowboy as you can get, it is about a horse in the rodeo named High N Mighty, owned by the stock contractors Brown and West. High N Mighty was named Bucking Horse of the Year for Canada in 1974 and 1976. Leo Brown, the Brown in Brown and West lived in Czar, Alberta for a spell and I babysat in his home. I still marvel at his trophy room. He also let me use his snowmobile, which was lots of fun. That would have been in about 1971, in 1981 I was riding bare-back in the Northern Alberta Amateur Cowboys Rodeo Association. I did six rides and got bucked off six times. I knew when to quit, and now I just listen to cowboy records and go to the occasional rodeo as a spectator.
Getting back in the record groove after my rabbit trail we have “Talkin’ Prairie Blues”, not to be confused with “Talkin’ Veterinarian Blues”.
One of my favourite songs to play on guitar is “Ghost Riders In the Sky” written by Stan Jones, who also wrote the song “Cowpokes”, that Colter covers here. He then rounds out the roundup with two original songs, “Rocky Mountain Rangers”, which is a bit of Canadian history and “Houlihans at the Holiday Inn”. Throwing Houlihans has a couple of meanings. It could be a method of throwing a lasso, typically in a corral where space is limited. It could also be cowboy slang for raising a little hell, perhaps in the Holiday Inn while on tour.
So there we have an overview of Colter Walls music up to today. I would encourage you to listen to all three of his albums as well as chasing down all the rabbit trails. Ian Tyson, Corb Lund, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Stan Jones, Marty Robbins, Bobby Helms, Stonewall Jackson, Hank Snow, and yes, even Chuck Berry’s version of Fraulein.
All music is good music; there is just some that I like better than others.
I wish happy listening to everyone and play safe.