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The Goodnight Loving Trail

That is Finest Kind performing The Goodnight Loving Trail by U. Utah Phillips. It’s introduced by the late Utah Phillips himself on the second episode of his radio show, which was called Loafer’s Glory.

The Goodnight Loving Trail is a cowboy song. It refers to an actual historical trail used in cattle drives in the 1860s and it was named after Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The trail went up through central Texas, north into New Mexico up into Colorado and eventually into Wyoming.

Goodnight and Loving had this idea that there would be enough demand for beef in the north to make huge cattle drives possible. The song, however isn’t so much about the cattle drive though, as it is about getting old. The song goes, “your old woman’s lonesome tonight”. The so-called old woman on the cattle drive was the cowboy who was “too old to wrangle or ride on the swing”, so instead he was the cook and the doctor and the camp musician too.

I know that some day I’ll be just the same,
Wearing an apron instead of a name.
There’s nothing can change it, there’s no one to blame
For the desert’s a book writ in lizards and sage,
Easy to look like an old torn out page,
Faded and cracked with the colors of age.

On the Goodnight Trail, on the Loving Trail,
Our Old Woman’s lonesome tonight.
Your French harp blows like the low bawling calf.
It’s a wonder the wind don’t tear off your skin.
Get in there and blow out the light.

Earlier today, I was in the car, off to get an x-ray and ultrasound on my shoulder – 3 months on crutches were not kind to some of my muscles. As usual I had music blasting in the car. Today is was Rosalie Sorrels tribute to Utah Phillips, Stranger in Another Country, and her lovely performance of the Goodnight Loving Trail was on it, which got me thinking I should check out some other versions of the tune once again.

This song has been fairly well recorded. Some time ago I posted an Ian Tyson version that somebody had put up on YouTube (it’s gone now), along with a lovely version by Joe Ely with Joel Guzman on squeezebox. Curiously, Tom Waits also performed it once upon a time….

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