Rodeo Songs: “Try” and “High Water Jeans”

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As a young Montana rodeo cowboy and rancher’s son, I was mostly okay in the “try” department but wore unfashionable high water jeans. Rodeo songs, oddly enough, pretty much failed to get into my songwriting repertoire back then. I was so busy wrapping my head about the idea of conquering the next bull or bronc that it just didn’t occur to me to sing about the effort.

The second version of David G. Brown’s excellent book, Gold Buckle Dreams, The Life and Times of Chris LeDoux, changed all that. Trust me, that book is a gem. If you have the slightest smidgen of interest in reading about the life of a rodeo cowboy committed to his sport, hit up Amazon (or your favorite bookstore) for a copy. Frankly, once I’d finished reading the expanded version of Chris’s story, I felt kind of…ashamed of myself. Okay, so it wasn’t all that likely I could write a rodeo song that could compare with Photo Finish or National Finals Rodeo, but I could write something.

And so, belatedly but better late than never, I finally grabbed pen and paper and got down the lyrics to my first two complete rodeo songs ever…half a century after the events they describe actually happened. I’ve got a ten day road trip coming up that may provide me with the opportunity to pen a few more–you never know–but here are my efforts from yesterday (Try) and today (High Water Jeans). They’ve not yet been worked up with the guitar, so the melodies I’m using will most likely change for the better, but the lyrics are set.

Enjoy.

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TRY
Copyright 2015 by Fred Baker

The cinch is pulled up tight; I measure off the rein
Climb down in the chute and get ready to go again
Gray Wolf is the horse’s name; he fills my gut with fear
I know that I’m in trouble in my first rodeo year

I turned 15 last autumn and now that spring has sprung
I’m up here at Ronan, Montana, to get my bell rung
Some cowboys ride because they are just naturally inspired
Now & then an extreme talent will set the world on fire
Me, I want the glory, to be the champion of course
It does not help, I will admit, that I’m terrified of this horse

I nod my head, they pull the gate, Gray Wolf jumps around
I’m hung up in the stirrup and my head is pointed down
By the time I find my freedom, his hoof has clipped my hip
When I get up, I’m not crying; I don’t even bite my lip

My Dad buys me a better pair of boots and a ribeye steak to boot
We share a motel bunk and read Louis L’Amour till the hens come home to roost
I know I’ve found my calling; I know I’ll get there yet
One month later I draw a sorrel known as Earl’s Pet
A tall chute fighting gelding, makes me to want wet my pants
My body freaks out and my toes turn in when we head out to dance
I blow both of my stirrups; Earl’s Pet is such a loss
It still takes him six full seconds to throw my carcass off

One year later I win the District in the saddle bronc event
Nobody saw that one coming except me and my friends
The moral of the story, if you want to rodeo
It ain’t about where you start at; it’s how far you choose to go
The greatest compliment you’ll ever hear, no matter how high you fly
Is a sentence of just seven words: “That cowboy’s got a lot of try.”

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Fred Baler #184 (Kerby rodeo string), winning 1st Place at Pleasant Grove Utah, June 19, 1965.

Fred Baler on #184 (Kerby rodeo string), winning 1st Place in the Bull Riding at Pleasant Grove Utah, June 19, 1965. Note the high water jeans.

HIGH WATER JEANS
Copyright 2015 by Fred Baker

We make it to the rodeo office, barely in time
I lay my money down and now this permit holder is fine
The rough stock’s already been drawn; I walk over to check it out
It says I’ve drawn Number 184; I don’t know what he’s about

Having never followed this string before, I ask what I have here
Turns out he’s a Finals bull and he ain’t been rode this year
I express my pleasure; the others breathe a scornful sigh
They think I’m a Rexall cowboy; you can see it in their eyes

They don’t know me from Adam’s off ox and I don’t look like no prize
Who’s this badly dressed idiot who thinks that he can ride?
There’s a cheap straw hat upon my head, then a short sleeved civilian shirt
High water jeans and old Acme boots without one speck of dirt
They figure me for a wannabe, so certain they are right
So I flip ‘em the bird inside my head and get ready for Thursday night

I’m scheduled out in the first night’s run of a three day rodeo
On Wednesday afternoon, I stop by to tell the bulls hello
Mine’s a brindle white faced part Brahma with a look I like a lot
While I’m standing there, an older man walks up and we kick back and talk
He’s a pattern bull, he tells me, if you get him from a left hand chute
He’ll go out two or three jumps, then crank back hard, kick & spin till you’ve got the loot
From the other side, he ain’t no fun; you never know when he’ll make his turn
Makes him harder to ride with a lower score, and your entry fee is burned.

—guitar riff—

My adrenaline is flaming, geared up and ready to ride
Watching that bull come down the alley, praying that he turns right
When I spot him going the way I want, I’m thrilled at what I see
I’m getting him out of a left hand chute; now the rest is up to me
When he makes his jump into the arena, I’m too eager when I shift my weight
I’m down on his left and would normally scramble to get back straight
But I remember what the man told me; one more jump & he should turn back
If I move he’ll sling me off to the right and you know we can’t have that
So I gamble with everything I’ve got and hold right where I set
Sure enough, he turns back under me and pops me up erect
From there it’s all sitting in a rocking chair, reaching and taking my holds each jump
The whistle blows and I roll off clean and strut on past his rump

The crowd goes wild with my bride of five days watching from the grandstand side
I throw my hat in the air, yell to one and all, “Man he’s sweet to ride!”
“You just think so ‘cause you got him rode,” comes a sour voice from the fence
Couldn’t argue with that but I did not care; I was higher than I’d ever been
Them Utah boys at Pleasant Grove quit giving me funny looks
With the last rider out on Saturday, my win went in the books
It was worth all the wrecks I’d ever had and the times I nearly died
To show them old boys in central Utah, high water jeans don’t mean you can’t ride

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The events described in Try happened in 1959, beginning with the District High School Rodeo held at Ronan, Montana. (I drew Earl’s Pet later that summer at Polson, Montana.) Six years later, in 1965 and newly married at the age of twenty-one, my arena skills were at least moderately improved. However, my preference for high water jeans–rather than the “cowboy GQ politically correct” manure-dragging cuffs favored by the fashion conscious cowboys among us–had not changed in the slightest.

2 thoughts on “Rodeo Songs: “Try” and “High Water Jeans”

  1. Thanks. Pam likes them, too, particularly High Water Jeans. She insists on having the photo hang on the wall right by the head of her bed so she’s got her cowboy close by even if we do have separate bedrooms these days. 🙂

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