Red Headed Stranger

Red Headed Stranger

by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz

The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana
Rode into town one day
And under his knees was a ragin’ black stallion
And walkin’ behind was a bay
The red-headed stranger had eyes like the thunder
And his lips, they were sad and tight
His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside
And his heart was heavy as night
Don’t cross him, don’t boss him
He’s wild in his sorrow
He’s ridin’ an’ hidin his pain
Don’t fight him, don’t spite him
Just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he’ll ride on again

A yellow-haired lady leaned out of her window
An’ watched as he passed her way
She drew back in fear at the sight of the stallion
But cast greedy eyes on the bay
But how could she know that this dancin’ bay pony
Meant more to him than life
For this was the horse that his little lost darlin’
Had ridden when she was his wife

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him
He’s wild in his sorrow
He’s ridin’ an’ hidin his pain
Don’t fight him, don’t spite him
Just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he’ll ride on again

The yellow-haired lady came down to the tavern
An’ looked up the stranger there
He bought her a drink, an’ he gave her some money
He just didn’t seem to care
She followed him out as he saddled his stallion
An’ laughed as she grabbed at the bay
He shot her so quick, they had no time to warn her
She never heard anyone say

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him
He’s wild in his sorrow
He’s ridin’ an’ hidin his pain
Don’t fight him, don’t spite him
Just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he’ll ride on again

The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
The stranger went free, of course
For you can’t hang a man for killin’ a woman
Who’s tryin’ to steal your horse
This is the tale of the red headed stranger
And if he should pass your way
Stay out of the path of the ragin’ black stallion
And don’t lay a hand on the bay

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him
He’s wild in his sorrow
He’s ridin’ an’ hidin his pain
Don’t fight him, don’t spite him
Just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he’ll ride on again

_______________________

This was a song that fit its time period. The 1950s in the United States was a time of “cowboys and Indians.” The American West – with all of its history, folklore, and myths – was front and center in the Zeitgeist.

The song is a straight-forward story about a widowed man who murders a woman who touched his late wife’s bay pony in ignorance of how he would react to her doing so. The humor of the song is that he is exonerated from any wrong-doing under the absurd argument that she was trying to *steal* the horse. I don’t know if you could write a song like this today and expect that the audience would find that part of the song to be funny. Illustrative of the changing standards, this song was originally performed for children specifically.

Chords:

C
The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana
 
                   G7
Rode into town one day
 
    C                     F            C
And under his knees was a raging black stallion
 
    D7                   G7
And walking behind was a bay
 
 
    C
The red-headed stranger had eyes like thunder
 
                          G7
And lips that were sad and tight
 
    C                     F               C
His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside
 
                  G7       C
And his heart was heavy as night
 
 
         F
So don't cross him don't boss him
 
     C
He's wild in his sorrow
 
                               G7
He's riding and he's hiding his pain
 
      F
Don't fight him don't spite him
 
     C
Just wait 'til tomorrow
 
            G7      C
Maybe he'll ride on again
 
 
 
A yellow-haired lady leaned out of her window
 
                             G7
And watched as he passed her way
 
    C                            F            C
And she drew back in fear at the sight of the stallion
 
         D7                 G7
But cast greedy eyes on the bay
 
 
    C
But how could she know that the dancing bay pony
 
                       G7
Meant more to him than life
 
    C                           F           C
For this was the horse that his little lost darling
 
                G7          C
Had ridden when she was his wife
 
 
         F
So don't cross him don't boss him
 
     C
He's wild in his sorrow
 
                               G7
He's riding and he's hiding his pain
 
      F
Don't fight him don't spite him
 
     C
Just wait 'til tomorrow
 
            G7      C
Maybe he'll ride on again
 
 
 
The yellow-haired lady went down to the tavern
 
                           G7
And looked up the stranger there
 
   C                         F             C
He bought her a drink and he gave her some money
 
       D7                  G7
But he just didn't seem to care
 
 
    C
She followed him out as he saddled his stallion
 
                                  G7
And laughed as she grabbed at the bay
 
   C                          F               C
He shot her so quick they had no time to warn her
 
          G7           C
She never heard anyone say
 
 
         F
So don't cross him don't boss him
 
     C
He's wild in his sorrow
 
                               G7
He's riding and he's hiding his pain
 
      F
Don't fight him don't spite him
 
     C
Just wait 'til tomorrow
 
            G7      C
Maybe he'll ride on again
 
 
 
The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
 
                          G7
The stranger went free of course
 
    C                        F         C
For you can't hang a man for killing a woman
 
      D7                   G7
Who's trying to steal your horse
 
 
    C
Now this is the tale of the red-headed stranger
 
                           G7
And if he should pass your way
 
     C                      F            C
Stay out of the path of the raging black stallion
 
                G7          C
And don't lay a hand on the bay
 
 
         F
So don't cross him don't boss him
 
     C
He's wild in his sorrow
 
                               G7
He's riding and he's hiding his pain
 
      F
Don't fight him don't spite him
 
     C
Just wait 'til tomorrow
 
            G7      C
Maybe he'll ride on again

From Wiki:

Red Headed Stranger is a song written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz, published in 1953. Originally written for Perry Como, the song was not recorded by him due to publishing issues. In 1954, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith released a version of the song on MGM Records that received good radio play.

Country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson performed the song at the time of its original release for children at bedtime on his show, The Western Express. In 1974, inspired by his then-wife Connie Koepke, he wrote the concept album Red Headed Stranger based on the song. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.

The song and album subsequently became to intertwined with Nelson that “Red Headed Stranger” became his nickname.

_______________________

Background

The lyrics were written by Edith Lindeman, the entertainment editor of Virginia’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Carl Stutz, a musician who worked as an accountant and high school mathematics teacher, composed the music. The song was first published in 1953.

“The Red Headed Stranger” follows the story of “The Stranger”, who rambles into town on a black stallion, leading the bay horse of his dead wife. The stranger meets a blond woman in a tavern, who follows him out as he leaves. The stranger shoots the woman as she grabs his bay, but leaves town after being found not guilty, considering that the woman tried to steal his horse.

Edith Lindeman recounts the origin of the lyrics: “I was just sitting at home one night, playing with the idea of colors.” The redhead she had in mind was her husband. She named the town Blue Rock, gave the hero a “raging black stallion” and introduced him to a “yellow-haired” lady riding a bay-colored horse.

Recordings

The ballad was originally written for Perry Como, but never recorded by him due to a publishing dispute. It was first recorded by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1954. Smith of Charlotte, North Carolina, was the host of the nationally syndicated country music program The Arthur Smith Show. The single was released on MGM Records with the number K11784, featuring on the flipside “Sobbin’ Women” and credited to Arthur Smith and His Cracker-Jacks. Although the song did not chart, it received good radio airplay, in a September 1955, Billboard noted: “Arthur Smith’s ‘The Red Headed Stranger’ […] after a year or more is still drawing a large number of requests.”

“The Redheaded Stranger” was included by Eddy Arnold in his 1959 RCA Victor release Thereby Hangs a Tale. A 1960 review of the album by Scholastic Voice remarked “Eddy Arnold is in a storytelling mood, with the sagas of Jesse James, Tom Dooley, and the curious Red Headed Stranger to keep you interested.” Also in 1959, John D. Loudermilk released a cover version on the flipside of “The Happy Wonderer”, on Columbia Records’ number 41507.

In 1954, Willie Nelson hosted The Western Express on KCNC in Fort Worth, Texas. At the time the record was released, Nelson played it at one in the afternoon to the children in the audience as a cradle tune. Nelson, who sang the song for his daughter Lana at bedtime, would occasionally also sing it himself on the show. While returning from a ski trip in Aspen, Colorado, in 1974, his then-wife Connie Koepke suggested to write a western concept album, based on “The Red Headed Stranger”. Nelson mixed old songs from other artists and original compositions to create the concept of the Red Headed Stranger album: a fugitive on the run from the law after killing his wife and her lover. The album was certified gold in 1976 by the Recording Industry Association of America, and on November 21, 1986, it was certified double-platinum. Originally, Lindeman wrote a teleplay based on the song in 1954, which was never produced. In 1986, Nelson starred and produced the movie Red Headed Stranger.

In 1993, a 1955 live recording of the song by Glen Glenn, featuring Rose Maddox and her brothers was included in the UK release Missouri Rockabilly 1955 – 1965. Carla Bozulich recorded the song for her 2003 album The Red Headed Stranger. In 2013, Nelson recorded a duet of the song with Jack White. The six-inch single was released on Third Man Records TMR229.

_______________________

Chart (1975) Peak position

US Billboard 200 28
US Top Country Albums (Billboard) 1

As mentioned, the song is the inspiration for Nelson’s 1975 concept album of the same name. Subsequently, in 1986, the song and the album inspired a movie – also of the same name – starring Willie Nelson.

That album launched Willie Nelson to genuine “outlaw country” stardom and made him one of the most recognized recording artists in the world. I’ve included an imbedded live performance below.

.

.

.

Leave a Reply