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Pass Me the Gun, Billy - RANGE magazine - · PDF fileThey had a trader sale on Wednesday afternoon. ... trains and trucks, ... RANGE magazine-Winter 2017-Pass Me the Gun, Billy Author:

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Text of Pass Me the Gun, Billy - RANGE magazine - · PDF fileThey had a trader sale on Wednesday...


    Heard you left the ChimeneasAnd that makes me kind of sadShes a great old Spanish Land GrantAnd youre the best she ever had...

    Cowboy Pride by Ian Tyson

    When he was 16 years old mybrother Pat built a bucking barrelin the backyard of our Ingle-wood, Calif., home, a 40-gallon oil drum sus-pended on ropes between four telephonepoles. The rig was powered by heavy-gaugegarage-door springs tied to the end of theropes. Pat was gearing up for riding real bullsin weekend rodeos on film ranches in theSan Fernando Valley. Hed recruit neighbor-hood boys, instruct them in the ways of abull rope, and tell them they needed a gate-opening passwordlike Lets dance! orRide a bull! or Outside!famous last words before Patlaunched them into outer space.

    Bull-riding dreams faded fastas the kid flew over chicken coopsand doghouses, landing facedownin Mrs. Zeelsdorf s manure pile.But nobody could buck my broth-er off that damn oil drum. He wasset for life. Centered. He went on tothe real thing, and hes still in therodeo game.

    Next Pat ran off to the SierraNevada, still in his teens, andworked as a mule packer for asummer in Mineral King. One ofhis mentors was an old Arkansasmule man named Rayburn Crane.I wrote one of my first songs abouthim. Rayburn Crane he rode thesemountains, like the streams he rodeem through... Pat returned withdozens of old cowboy songs, Irishfolk songs, and poems hed learnedup in the wilderness. Everyone was requiredto sing or recite something around themountain campfires. Weve been swappingsongs ever since.

    Los Angeles, believe it or not, was cow-boy country. My brother is still obsessedwith the sheer volume of horses that havecome through Los Angeles in the last twoor three hundred years. We grew up on the

    backside of HollywoodPark Racetrack, wheremy dad played pokerwith William Boyd (akaHopalong Cassidy) anddabbled in the buyingand selling of racehors-es. It was in my fathers blood. His fatherhad traded horses in Iowa.

    Horses in L.A.? There was the westernmovie business, of course, and all that wentwith itincluding the bars along the back-side of Griffith Park, where stuntmen, movieextras, rodeo cowboys, and livestock contrac-tors drank, fought, and enacted daily busi-ness. Then there was the L.A. Horse andMule Auction where we bought our pleasurehorsesmost of them cowponies that camefrom Texas via train.

    Ill let my brother tell about the LosAngeles auction scene back in the 50s. Hehas a better slant on the lingo.

    Heres Pat:In L.A., there was a horse auction twice

    a week. They had a trader sale on Wednesdayafternoon. Bob Scott, who was half-Indianand half-black, rode the horses through thering. Theyd come in by the hundreds. Hednever seen em before, but could make em doanything. He worked with a lot of the movie hors-

    es. He could make a horse lay down and rollover. With a halter rope. He had the knack.And a guy named Red Foster was trying tostart the American Model Quarter Horse

    Association, and hedship horses from NewMexico and Arizona. The traders sale was

    just for horse traders.Thered be three or fourhundred horses in thereand they wrote out thehorses names and heldthem up. Theyd shavetheir tails down eachside so their butts wouldlook bigger and theirneck would look stouter.And a lot of those

    horses had their manesrubbed out, and theyd sell the mane and tailhair. Theyd keep the horsehair separate. Load

    Pass Me the Gun, BillyThe Russell brothers...dealers in livestock and song. By Tom Russell

    CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Tom stands nextto brother Pat. Andy Warhol, GeorgeJones, and Tom, somewhere in the Eastin 1981. Russell Christmas card in1956. Top row: Nan Russell, motherMarge and Mary Clare on Texanne(Texas cow horse bought at the L.A.Horse and Mule Auction). Bottom row:Pat, father A. Charles Russell and Tom(Hot walker). Pat, chomping at thebit to ride.


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    after load of it. The horses would come off thetrains and trucks, and also carloads of hair.The hair was sold to guys who would use junkhair in furniture. Ottomans and cushions. Andthe rest would go to making hair ropes.

    Brother Pat went from bull riding tobareback horses. He learned his trade at theauction. Heres Pat again:

    Behind the L.A Horse and Mule Auctionon Bandini Road was Snowdon Brothers. Ahorse killin plant. Theyd kill like 80 to 500

    horses a day. For dog food. And Alvin Deal andI would go over to the horse killin plant whenthe sale was going on back at the auction. Wedget these killer horses in the alley, and wed ropeone, put a bareback riggin on em, and thatswhere wed practice. And wed have to catchhim to get our riggin off.

    Over in the hay barns, behind the auc-tion, there was always a crap game going on.One Friday night they shot a guy.

    Theres your cowboy movie. All I have todo for new cowboy song material is hangaround brother for a day or two, and thenreach for the rhymes.

    In that regard, Ian Tyson and I wereworking on songs one afternoon in a remotecabin in the Canadian Rockies. We went for ahike to clear our heads and Ian stopped,turned to me, and said: Whats up with yourbrother? Hes always good for some colorfulmaterial.

    So I told the story of one of my brotherslatest romantic escapades and his gettingkicked off the Chimeneas Ranch in Cuyama,Calif., for stating, in an LA Times story, some-

    thing to the effect that a cowboy could doanything he damn well wantedincludinggoing into town to drink, run wild, and chasethe ladies. You get the drift.

    The corporate owner of the ranch readthe article and took offense. Political correct-ness reared its wimpy skull. Based on this,Tyson wrote the song Cowboy Pride,which was a semihit for Ian, as well asMichael Martin Murphey. We also laterwrote one called Heartaches Are Stealin,

    recorded by Ian, and recently by MikeBeck. My brothers identity was thinlyveiled in both songs. Some relativeswerent thrilled.

    With Pat it was always the horses.Hes gone on to become one of themost respected California horsemenand a major livestock provider forrodeos and cutting-horse events. Heson the backside. Always horseback. Ibecame the songwriter. I stole his Tijua-na gut-string guitar when I was 14, andI listened to his great record collection:Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Tex Rit-ter, the music of the bullring...all of it. Amusic education. To this day hes deepinto old Irish folk songs and MexicanRanchera music by folks like Vicente

    Fernandez. These are the musical roots ofwhat I later put into melodies and lyrics.Songs like Gallo del Cielo and The SkyAbove, The Mud Below.

    If I had time here I could tell a few dozenbrotherly western action storiesmaybeabout the time my brother, Billy Mello, and Iwere in Pats truck chasing cattle poachersdown an isolated back road near San LuisObispo at 80 miles an hour. In front of us

    was a lowered Mercury filled with guys whoappeared as if theyd stepped out of the filmDeliverance. Inbred-looking weasels.

    When they got to an isolated spot theypulled their car over. We pulled over behind.Two of em stepped out and faced us withshotguns raised.

    My brother yells at Billy Mello, Pass methe gun, Billy!

    Billy frowns. Pat...we aint got no gun! That last phrase still rings in my ears. I

    dove for the floor, bashing my head into theradio. Ill leave the rest of the story for now.Ask Pat or Billy next time they ride throughyour territory.

    Its always been colorful. And western.Horses, cows, guns, women, songs. Mybrother Pat is of a different era. Think SlimPickens, Ben Johnson, or the song Tyin aKnot in the Devils Tail. Im sure Pat wouldhave roped the devils hind feet and cut offthe bastards horns. But these are now tepidtimes, eh? We get away with what we can. Herides em. I write about em. We both love agood song.

    The Russell brothers, dealers in livestockand tall tales. We came out of L.A. and thebackside of the track, the horse auctions,slaughterhouses, and those San FernandoValley film ranches. And Pats still murmur-ing about the sheer number of horses thatcame across the irrigated desert.

    A while back I flew into Los Angeles,directly over the old Hollywood Park Race-track, near where we grew up. The bulldozerswere demolishing the last portion of thegrandstand. The old stables were gone. Theycan tear it all down, sir, but they cant bull-doze our memories.

    Pass me the guitar. Tonight we ride!

    Singer/songwriter/painter/essayist Tom Rus-sell has recorded 35 highly acclaimed recordsand published five books. His songs have beenrecorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Ram-blin Jack Elliott, Ian Tyson, Iris Dement, JoeEly, and a hundred others. In 2015, hereleased a 52-track folk opera on the West,The Rose of Roscrae, which was deemedmaybe the most important Americana recordof all time by UK Folk and hailed in Top Tenlists in three dozen publications, includingthe Los Angeles Times. He appeared onThe Late Show With David Lettermanfive times. In 2015, he won the top ASCAPaward for music journalism.,,and

    FROM TOP: Ian Tyson and Tom in 1987. Timeswere good. Toddler Tom, always looking up tohot-rodder Pat.

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