Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews |

Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews

If the dad in your life is a rancher or a horseman, here’s a Father’s Day suggestion that will be as welcome as a second cutting of alfalfa to a dryland producer – . In Hawaiian, means “to get around.” That’s exactly what the documentary producers do in episode three of their ongoing Vaquero Series, this time featuring island cowboys called .

By chance I caught a screening of at December’s Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival in Monterey, CA. I couldn’t have been happier to see the footage, and I finally met Susan Jensen and Paul Singer.

Jensen and Singer, J&S Productions, have undertaken what can only be described as a labor of love, showcasing the history and regional differences among America’s cowboy culture. The 90-minute Paniolo follows #1 (California vaquero) and #2 (buckaroo). Number 4 (northern range) was just released May 12, 2008. But, back to .

The story of how cattle came to the islands, and became a menace, is every bit as interesting as the traditions of those caring for them. In 1833, King Kamehameha recruited three vaqueros from California to train Hawaiians to ride, rope, and catch the wild cattle that were running rampant in his kingdom.

J&S spent six weeks filming across the five islands. Naturally, there’s footage from one the largest cattle ranches in the United States – the Parker Ranch – running 17,000 head on 175,000 acres. But, you’ll also see smaller homesteads of the native Hawaiians.

Adaptations to a rocky and wet environment can be seen in the construction of stone corrals and the Hawaiian saddle. Because of the high humidity, a traditional high Plains saddle is ill-suited to the tropics. Instead, adopted a stripped down tree that is waterproof for swimming cattle to boats and dries quickly.

As with previous episodes, there is a cowboy music component to the DVD. In the case of the Hawaiians, it’s the slack-key guitar tradition, a remnant of the vaqueros’ Spanish guitars.

Individual DVD titles from the Vaquero Series sell for $21.95. Bundled, episodes #1-3 sell for $55; episodes #1-4 sell for $77. All prices include shipping. Order from J&S Productions, PO Box 91560, Santa Barbara, CA 93190; (805) 695-0164; To locate a store that sells the series – from Hawaii to Montana, Texas to Germany –

A recent arrival in my mailbox that I’m delighted to recommend is Ray Doyle’s . The Dublin-born Doyle is familiar to fans of Wylie & The Wild West as Wylie’s longtime band leader. That alone says a lot, but Ray is a class act in his own right. This CD makes that point perfectly clear.

In liner notes, Doyle recounts his family’s journey aboard “an overcrowded ship for a turbulent nine-day voyage from Ireland.” Eventually, they settled near the Hollywood Hills in California. While not necessarily biographical, the 11 tracks successfully condense the emigrant experience that is America, spanning both the continent and the centuries.

Doyle did a master job of selecting and choreographing the songs, a mixture of original compositions, traditional tunes, Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” From the gut-wretching title track to the lovely guitar instrumental “Rosalba,” from Doyle’s award-winning tribute to Yellowstone Park, “The Jewel,” to the mournful 7th Cavalry ballad “Mick Ryan’s Lament,” it’s a grand journey. The tempo changes from track to track are effortless; the subject matter interesting and refreshing. It’s the type of CD that you want to listen to over and over again.

Order for $16 (postage included) from Ray Doyle, PO Box 661111, Mar Vista, CA 90066; To be on the safe side, order two copies. I know you’ll want to keep one for yourself.

If your dad prefers books to videos or music, consider Ray Hunter’s 135-page hardback, . Hunter lived the life of cowboy and rancher, with most of his years spent in South Dakota. In 1995, he started writing stories about how things used to be. (Look for a feature on him in the upcoming Ag Pride edition from .)

is available in many West River bookstores. To order a copy, send $25 (postpaid) to Ray Hunter, 1220 Cedar St., Apt #409, Sturgis, SD 57785; 605-347-0218.


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