Great Western Themes
The Lusty Sounds of The Old West
Billy Strange, his guitar and orchestra
London-American (UK), GNP Crescendo (US)
|side one||side 2|
|For A Few Dollars More|
(Johnny Western, Richard Boone, Sam Rolfe)
|The Good, The Bad & The Ugly|
|Hang ’em High|
(Jay Livingston & Ray Evans)
|Five Card Stud|
|Cowboys & Indians|
(Billy Strange & Les Taylor)
|Showdown at La Mesa|
(Billy Strange & Les Taylor)
US and UK pressings
Western themes stir the soul for my age group. We started with Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, shooting cap guns at the screen in Saturday morning cinemas across the land. Then of course came Davy Crockett – King of The Wild Frontier. Then we grew up with back to back Westerns on TV … Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, Cheyenne, Maverick. At the cinema it was all there too, Stage Coach (which was recycled on TV very frequently), The Magnificent Seven, Shoot Out At The OK Corral, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, High Noon and onto to Ennio Morricone and the spaghetti westerns … some of the greatest.
When we were doing stage shows in the 70s, we mined Geoff Love’s Big Western Movie Themes, conveniently on the budget Music for Pleasure Level from EMI. There are so many in charity shops (along with Big War Movie Themes) that it must have sold well. It is actually a year earlier than the Billy Strange record in the UK, though the American release was the same year, 1969. The albums only shares three tracks. We used to use High Noon and The Good Bad & The Ugly which are shared choices.
Great Western Themes took my attention for the sleeve. Then I saw the name – Billy Strange. This is the man who played guitar for Phil Spector on Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, which is credited for inventing fuzz guitar. He worked with Lee Hazlewood and Duane Eddy (whose own versions of Ballad of Paladin and Deep In The Heart of Texas are classics). He played with The Everly Brothers, Jan & Dean, Wanda Jackson, Randy Newman. He played on many Disney film sessions. He wrote Limbo Rock for Chubby Checker.
He was part of The Wrecking Crew playing on Good Vibrations and Pet Sounds for The Beach Boys. He played on Elvis records. He co-wrote A Little Less Conversation with Mac Davis, as well as co-writing several Elvis film songs. Then he arranged These Boots Are Made For Walking for Nancy Sinatra, and played on every Nancy Sinatra album. He arranged Some Velvet Morning. He arranged Somethin’ Stupid for Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra.
This not the Geoff Love Orchestra of old British session guys. The musicians he assembled in Los Angeles for this would have played on some of those original TV Western themes themselves, as had he.
Unlike Geoff Love, these are distinctive versions, not faithful copies of originals. The single note twangy guitar is very Duane Eddy in style here. I’d assume this The Wrecking Crew having fun. There’s some memorable drumming throughout which I’d assume is Hal Blaine. There are two originals, ending each side. The tracks often have sound effects (horses, guns, shouting) opening the tunes.
Have a look at Discogs. £1.70 to £6 today, with the £6 one being near-mint.
There is a Golden Hour budget LP which squeezes on Great Western Themes and Great Railroad Themes. Golden Hour’s 30 minutes a side means really poor compressed quality. Avoid .