O Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie, also known as “The Cowboy’s Lament” and “The Dying Cowboy”, is a folk song originally derived from a sailor’s ballad written in the late 1830s. Since then, the tune has become one of America’s most recognized cowboy songs. It has been recorded by Roy Rogers, Johnny Cash, and even the experimental rock band The Residents, just to name a few.
Throughout the 20th century, the commercial music industry transferred familiar concepts of authenticity and ownership from the author’s printed sheet music to the artist’s recording. Ownership roles in the context of folk music’s oral traditions are much broader; every singer’s rendition is unique and definitive versions of songs are elusive. Variations of the source material develop through time, including transformations of the text as well as melodic and harmonic deviations. In fact, there are several recorded versions of O Bury Me Not that are nearly unrecognizable when compared side by side.
In this spirit, my version of O Bury Me Not is a re-imagination of an original 1939 field recording performed by Frank Goodwyn of Sarita, Texas. This particular performance arises from a larger project conducted throughout the Southeastern United States by pioneer musicologist and folklorist John Lomax.
Throughout the work, a series of melodic landscapes unfold as the bass trombone soloist plays an expressive role that mirrors the field recording’s plaintive candor. Besides deriving melodic material from the tune, I was also inspired by extra musical factors, such as the source recording’s low fidelity. The piece concludes with three layers of the tune at different pitch transpositions and speeds. Here the undoubtedly countless arrangements of the song are embraced by folk music’s communal paradigm.