The Story Behind Western Imaginarium

As young boys and girls in the late 1950s and very early 1960s a treat for us was going to the Saturday afternoon movies. In my case, I went to the Mayfair theatre in Sandringham Road in Auckland, New Zealand. Kids would whoop, yell and roll Jaffas down the aisles to the accompaniment of the western shorts and serials that were depicted on the screen. It was all shoot-outs, panoramic chases, wagon trains, Cowboys and Indians, and iconic and heroic figures such as Zorro, Roy Rogers and Trigger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Silver and Tonto.

At the same time there was the emerging dominance of instrumental music often with a strong western feel so typical of early recordings of The Shadows and to some extent The Ventures.

The mid-1960s witnessed the emergence of the Italian ‘spaghetti’ Westerns directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. The dramatic scores of Ennio Morricone featured the twanging guitar and whistling of Alessandro Alessandroni against a background of orchestras comprised of conventional and unconventional instruments.

These combined influences are reflected in the tunes “Western Matinee” and “High Country” on “Western Imaginarium”.

The next influence was the dustbowl novels and of depression-era America exemplified in movies like the Grapes of Wrath – a Steinbeckian vista of people escaping their ruined farms in Oklahoma and moving to California in a search of a better life. The songs of Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers and Blind Alfred Reed characterise and this and were carried on in the early recordings of Ry Cooder.

The Bakersfield sounds of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and the Strangers were a later influence. With a harder driving sound than the sounds emanating from Nashville the tunes often had a rockier sound and key influential guitarists were Don Rich and Roy Nichols. Also key, were the truck- driving songs of Dave Dudley and Red Simpson. These influences are reflected in the song “Just a Stone’s Throw Away (from Loving You)”.

The final tracks Muddy Slide and Desert Plaguescape are more impressionistic of dystopian landscapes caused by humankind, natural and climate-caused disasters that increasingly threaten the planet.


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