Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Josh Niles at Big Light, Nashville, Tennessee
The first paragraph of Henry Ringling North's 1960 book about the Ringling Brothers Circus that has a place here, in discussing the music of Riders In The Sky, if for no other purpose than to provide an interesting counter-context. North writes, "The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed, that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood - who kills the brightest stars in her cron and who will allow no private life to those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth." The circus, like the road, is a cold and cruel bitch most of the time, but the trail is something else. The trail makes a man struggle, but it shapes him as well, into something proud. The trail makes a man steadier if he gets to the end of it. The trail is lit by golden sunlight and bath-worthy moonlight. It's the version of the road that the cowboys choose.
These trails - the ones that let you find out where a man's grit and gravy are hidden - are the ones that Nashville legends Riders In The Sky follow with that pull-up-a-stool-let-me-get-you-a-drink attitude. The people in their songs find themselves invigorated at the ends of their days, having achieved true fulfillment. They've got purpose. They've got decently warm coffee in their tin cups and they've got their trusty saddle horses between their legs. They might be wearing stiffened with sweat clothes. They may have a stink about them, but they're happy to be with their buddies, driving cattle across the plains or tying their horses up outside the saloon for what's always a happy hour. Their songs - some of the most famous of which have been prominently featured in Pixar's "Toy Story" franchise -- are filled with notions of that camaraderie amongst cowboy friends, of living off the land, a soft breeze for a babe and needing very little other another day just like the one recently completed, where everything felt right and good.