An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
13 December, 2009
"Bandit Cole Younger" - Edward L. Crain (The Texas Cowboy)
Set One: Ballads; Disc Two; Track One: "Bandit Cole Younger" performed by Edward L. Crain (The Texas Cowboy). "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in New York on August 17, 1931. Original issue Columbia 15710D (W151731).
Born in Texas in 1901, Edward L. Crain worked as a cowboy on ranches and in cattle drives. He played guitar, mandolin and fiddle and performed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, occasionally appearing on radio. He recorded "Bandit Cole Younger" twice in 1931, once for Columbia and again for the American Record Corporation. Smith included the Columbia version on the Anthology. According to Mark Wilson, who interviewed Crain, Crain was raised on a ranch in Longview, Texas where he learned music from fellow ranch hands. Crain claimed that it was Jimmie Rodgers who encouraged him to go into music when asthma put an end to his career as a cowboy. Crain also recalled being booked on a tour with Jean Harlow and Bing Crosby, and that it was Harlow who told him to "stick to the cowboy stuff" when he attempted to modernize his repertoire. By 1970, Crain had moved to Ashland, Oregon. No death date is recorded.
The subject of this ballad is Thomas Coleman Younger (1844-1916), pictured above in a mugshot following his 1876 arrest. Cole Younger was born in Missouri and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, as well as being a member of Quantrell's Guerrillas. After the war, Younger and his brothers turned outlaw, as did many former Confederates, including Younger's sometime cohorts Frank and Jesse James. It was as a member of the James Gang that Younger was captured robbing a bank in Northfield, Minnesota and was convicted of the murder of the bank's cashier. Younger was paroled in 1901 and spent his later years performing along with Frank James as a member of a Wild West Show. He wrote an autobiography that portrayed himself as a Confederate avenger rather than a criminal. He died in his home town of Lee's Summit, Missouri after finding religion and repenting of his criminal past.
I am a noted highwayman, Cole Younger is my name; with deeds and desperation that brought my name to shame.
Robbing of the Northfield bank is a thing I'll never deny, But which I will be sorry of until the day I die.
We started for old Texas, that grand old Lone Star State; 'Twas there on Nebraska prairies the James Boys we did meet.
With knives, gun, and revolvers, we all sit down to play A game of good old poker to pass the time away.
Across the 'Braska prairies a Denver train we spy. I says to Bob, "We'll rob her as she goes rolling by."
We saddled up our horses, northwestward we did go, To the godforsaken country called Minnie-soh-tee-oh.
I had my eye on the Northfield bank when brother Bob did say, "Cole, if you under-to-take the job, you'll always curse the day."
We stationed out our pickets, up to the bank did go, 'Twas there upon the counter, boys, we struck our fatal blow.
Saying, "Hand us out your money, sir, and make no long delay. We are the noted Younger boys, and spend no time in play."
The cashier, being as true as steel, refused our noted band. 'Twas Jesse James that pulled the trigger that killed this noble man.
We run for life, for death was near, four hundred on our trail. We soon was overtaken and landed safe in jail.
'Twas there in the Stillwater jail we lay, a-wearing our lives away. Two James boys left to tell the tale of the sad and fateful day.
Crain's voice contrasts sharply with the subject matter. His voice is soft and gentle, even while he sings about murder and robbery. His performance on the guitar is simple and effective, evoking mental images of Crain singing this song around the bunk house stove for his fellow ranch hands.
As with "My Name is John Johanna," "Bandit Cole Younger" is a first person narrative that tells a tale of personal misfortune. Unlike the previous song, however, "Bandit Cole Younger" is based on a real person and real events. In that it has more in common with "Ommie Wise" and with "Charles Giteau," which is to follow...
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Here's a short instrumental version of "Cole Younger" performed by mahoney2100 on banjo.