For the past several weeks, I was completely and blissfully lost in a great book. Each evening, I anxiously rejoined the characters in Christy Leskovar’s One Night in a Bad Inn (Pictorial Histories Publishing, 2006, 608 pages, 200 photos, 6 maps, paperback ISBN 978-1-57510-142-2). It’s been a while since I was so absolutely transported to another place and time. It was a let down when I came to the acknowledgments and notes at the end.
An engineer, Leskovar left her job to research a series of family scandals, about which she had only the briefest of details. The quest began decades after the fact, ignited by a family member who casually mentioned Leskovar’s great-grandmother having been arrested for murdering her husband. The year was 1912; homesteaders were settling the remote recesses of Rosebud County, Montana. Eight years later, after traveling to every location where anything significant happened, Leskovar published the true story. It was a 2007 High Plains Best New Book Award finalist for first time authors. (Read an excerpt: http://www.onenightinabadinn.com/OneNight_ix-x.pdf)
One Night in a Bad Inn is described succinctly as, “A lively true story of scandal, war, murder, and mayhem, and courage and fortitude, stretching across the parched plains of eastern Montana to the raucous mining town of Butte to the bloody battlefields of the First World War” (www.onenightinabadinn.com). It’s all that and a Montana-and-world-history lesson too. I am in awe of Leskovar’s tenacity and devotion to the project. As I write, she is finishing a second manuscript, this one detailing the detective work behind her award-winning book. (Listen to a Montana Public Radio interview with the author: http://www.onenightinabadinn.com/Leskovar.mp3)
Order One Night in a Bad Inn for $24.95 from Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc., 713 S. 3rd Street West, Missoula MT 59801; (406) 549 8488. It is available nationwide from the Montana Talking Books Library for the Blind.
On a recent drive, while listening to a CD with a cool retro design, I was transported back to the golden days of Western swing. Herdin’ Cats, by the San Francisco Bay area Saddle Cats, celebrates California’s contributions to Western swing. Far from a simple matter of artwork or song selection, it feels as if the four-piece band is channeling the up-tempo beat that evolved in the 1920s and faded with America’s involvement in WWII.
An outgrowth of jazz, blues, Cajun music, and the Mexican polka, Western swing is further enhanced and identified by the distinctive sounds of the Hawaiian steel guitar. For audio samples of “Roly Poly,” “You Just Take Her,” and “Along the Navajo Trail,” plus a television news story about band leader (and classically trained violinist) Richard Chon, go to the band’s website: http://www.saddlecats.com. The group’s stated goal is “to celebrate the swing tradition of Bob Wills, Milton Brown and Spade Cooley with abandon, finesse and exuberant spirits.” I’d say they’re right on target.
The 13-track Herdin’ Cats sells for $17. For credit card orders, go to http://www.saddlecats.com. If you prefer to pay by check, mail to Saddle Cats, 4131 Oakmore Road, Oakland, CA 94602; (510) 469-8991.
David Wilkie and Cowboy Celtic took me back even further in time with Gunsmoke, Whisky & Heather, back to the American Civil War, to a father bidding his son farewell as the lad emigrates to North America, to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, to the time of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Known for blending traditional cowboy music with the music of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, this Canadian group performs using old-world Celtic instrumentation. Expect to hear a flute, harp, bodhran (Irish drum), mandola, mandocello, and Scottish smallpipes, in addition to more familiar stringed instruments.
Folk music from the British Isles served as the basis for a great many classic cowboy songs, one such being “The Cowboy’s Lament.” The melody is the same as that of Scotland’s “The Unfortunate Rake” and Ireland’s “The Bard of Armagh.” Wilkie’s talents in melding the styles were honored with a Wrangler from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Cowboy Ceilidh was presented the Outstanding Traditional Western Music Album in 1999.
Liner notes and audio samples from the 11-track Gunsmoke, Whisky & Heather can be found at http://www.cowboyceltic.com/gunsmoke_whisky_heather.htm. You’ll hear “Saltwater Buffalo,” “I Want to Be a Real Cowboy Girl,” “Black Diamond,” The Day that Billy Cody Played the Auld Grey Toon,” and “Marnie Swanson of the Grey Coast.”
The CD sells for $17.50 plus $3.50 shipping. Two CDs ship for $3.50, so consider ordering a second title. I’m partial to The Drover Road. Order from Centerfire Music, Box 868, Turner Valley, AB T0L 2A0, Canada; http://www.centerfiremusic.com; (403) 933-2210.