COWBOYS AND INDIANS, JOHNNY MADDOX
by David Reffkin, Director, The American Ragtime Ensemble; Producer/Host, "The Ragtime Machine" (KUSF, San Francisco)
The concept for this recording comes from the regular summer engagement of Johnny Maddox at Durango, Colorado's Slater Hotel. The local cowboys and Indians in fact do stop in to hear music reminiscent of the 'old west'. Some of the classics of the genre are on the program, too. Just have a listen to Johnny's renditions of the classic "San Antonio Rose" the ever-popular "Ragtime Cowboy Joe." A welcome relief from the sometimes over dramatized "Yellow Rose of Texas", Johnny gives it the Civil War march feel it originally portrayed. There's also a bit of "Dixie" in it to set the scene. As always, Johnny Maddox treats each piece as a musical whole, not just as part of a night's set-list of tunes to be checked off.
Of the many traditions in American music that Johnny often draws from is Tin Pan Alley. Here, though, in addition to that great catalog, there is included one of the songs that was the inspiration for the Alley. "Navajo" (Harry Williams, Egbert Van Alstyne, 1903) is an early example of the Indian song, later played up in the many take-offs in the style. It is presented here as "Navajo Medley." Also, be sure to listen for the many musical quips that make brief appearances in the music, for example a tiny "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" quote at the end of "Sioux City Sue."
One might think a whole program of 'cowboys and Indians' theme may wear thin or only point out the novelty approach to songwriting at the turn of the century. But actually, one grows to appreciate the subtleties of difference between the composers, enhanced by the careful arranging of each piece in Maddox's performances. A reading of the liner notes, a glance at the beautifully reproduced covers and a contemplation of the music all together create a vivid picture of the pieces and an understanding that the 'old west' culture and the east coast songwriters were meeting in the middle somewhere. Sure, some of the clichés of the genre have pervaded the musical scene of the last century, but it is enlightening, in the most musically satisfying way, to listen to these re-creations of their early formations.