Monday, May 12, 2014

Songs of Old: "Spanish Cavalier"

The kid had a nice voice, soft with that liquid softness which the South gives to its sons. He did not sing very loudly, having no desire to advertise himself to the country, for he was bashful and would blush if you spoke to him suddenly—that is, in a friendly tone. The other kind brought no flush; only that steady, disconcerting stare of his yellow right eye.
~ B.M. Bower, Tiger Eye

I had never heard of this song before seeing it in the pages of Tiger Eye, a book which quickly became one of my favorite Western novels a few years ago. It was the first of a handful of songs that appear throughout the story, as a consequence of the protagonist's harmonica-playing and singing. After re-reading the book a few times, I eventually began to be curious about the melody that went with the lyrics.

For some reason, I was just certain that the Sons of the Pioneers must have recorded this song. It was just made for a Lloyd Perryman solo. A check of their discography showed that I was right; they did record it several times—but it was a while before I finally got my hands on a copy! This version was recorded sometime in the mid-to-late 1940s for use on one of their radio programs (and guess who sings the solos?): 


The Pioneers had recorded it at least twice before, including a 1941 version for NBC's Orthacoustic Transcriptions that I'd really love to hear (somebody, please release a CD box set of the complete Orthacoustics!).

The author of this song, William D. Hendrickson, seems to have left even less of a mark on history beyond his popular song than did Marion Dix Sullivan, the author of the last song I spotlighted. The exact date of "Spanish Cavalier" isn't even 100% certain—most sources say 1881, and that is the date on the sheet music in the Library of Congress American Memory collection. Occasionally the date 1871 appears in connection with the song, but I can't find any real sources to confirm one date or the other. 1871 could merely be a typo that's been repeated. But anyway, in the first half-century or so of its existence, it appears to have been one of those songs that everyone and their grandmother knew and sang. It was popular among choral groups as a "partner song" or "double song" which was performed simultaneously (in counterpoint, I'd guess) with another tune called "Solomon Levi." On one of the Sons of the Pioneers' radio shows that featured the song, Bob Nolan introduced "Spanish Cavalier" as "just about the most beautiful song the old pioneers ever handed down to the Sons of the Pioneers"—which is a pretty accurate description, I think. It's certainly one of the prettiest I've come across.

One final interesting footnote: the melody of "Spanish Cavalier" later inspired the popular song "Love Letters In the Sand," written in 1931 by J. Fred Coots, Nick Kenny and Charles Kenny, and popularized in the late 1950s by Pat Boone.

You can view the 1881 sheet music here. There's a third verse to the song that doesn't appear in the SOP recording above. The dedication on the sheet music reads "Respectfully Dedicated to Miss Jessie Raymond." I wonder who she was?

To read previous entries in Songs of Old, click here.

1 comment:

Dolly Madison said...

I first heard this one on Ken Carson's 1962 album "Treasury of the Golden West". His voice is suited to that sort of song so well, you know. :)