Lavender Cowboy – A Song History

In an article in Time Magazine, March 25, 1940, NBC revealed that 147 songs were on their list of “blue recordings,” with “blue” meaning they were blacklisted from radio. This may have been prompted by ASCAP’s concern about what they perceived as a wave of “salacious and suggestive songs.” It seems difficult to believe these days that the country song “Lavender Cowboy” would be on that list. Written as a poem in 1923 by Harold Hersey, it was set to music and recorded in 1927 by Ewen Hall. Country legend Vernon Dalhart recorded a version that stuck strictly to the words of the original poem. But it didn’t take long for the lyrics to gradually change, and to more explicitly portray the cowboy as homosexual, or at least (in 1937) as a “cream-puff,” as done by Bob Skyles and His Skyrockets.
Burl Ives recorded a quite tame rendition in 1950, one without a chorus, the version most people know and most recorded by others. But then in the UK Paddy Roberts turned things darker and our hero does not survive the song, after they quite nonchalantly shot him.
The song got one more change, and quite a drastic one in 1980, by the Newfoundland group, Sons of Erin. This time the cowboy survives, and their approach is quite campy and stereotypically gay. They even performed it on their TV show.
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You can find a Lot more information on a special page of my site, view the lyrics, and hear many of the recorded versions.
Lavender Cowboy – A Song History