In the extensive and incredibly informative 40-page booklet that accompanies Dom Flemons latest album ‘Black Cowboys’ (Smithsonian Folkways), on which he pays tribute to the music, culture, and the complex history of the golden era of the Wild West, he quotes from an interview with professor and author Mike Searles from a 2010 NPR interview:
“Many people see the West as the birthplace of America. If they only see it as the birthplace of white America, it means basically that all other people are interlopers—they’re not part of what makes an American. But if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place. Not just in the last decade or century, but from the very beginning.”
The liner notes are filled with history and some incredible images, some of which are family photos from Dom Flemons’s personal collection, historical photos from various archives, and tintype photographs shot by Timothy Duffy including one of Dom’s wife Vania Kinard who “brings to life a striking black western woman.”
Musicians Brian Farrow and Dante Pope join Flemons in re-creations of images of iconic black cowboys accompanying two tracks including “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” for which he has just shared the video below.
The liner notes for the song (also Song of the Day) explain: “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” is a favorite of the old-time string bands. Square dance music was a big part of the cowboy’s life on the range when the instruments and the players were available. In an article written for the Saturday Evening Post in 1925, Will C. Barnes explained, “In the early days of the open range, with plenty of open saloons, every drinking place had a singer or two to attract customers and liven up matters. Often they were women who sang in shrill, quavery voices, some highly sentimental, some sacred and many vulgar. The most satisfactory of these saloon singers were colored men, mostly from Texas, who played guitars, banjos or the violin, and sometimes possessed really musical voices. These singers did much toward keeping up the range songs and spreading them through the cow country.”
The players are:
Dom Flemons: guitar, vocal
Brian Farrow: fiddle and background vocal
Dante Pope: cow “rhythm” bones and background vocal
Dan Sheehy: guitarrón
The songs and poems featured on the album take the listener on an illuminating journey from the trails to the rails of the Old West. This century-old story follows the footsteps of the thousands of African American pioneers who helped build the United States of America.
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