Show #19: PETER La FARGE (Show #2 of 2)
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The following interview with Peter LaFarge was broadcast October 5 & 8, 1964 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman Alan Wasser. This is interview #2 of 2 with Mr. LaFarge. The first interview can be found here.

Featuring folk song performances: "Lavender Cowboy"; "Walkin' John"; "Old Strawberry Roan"; "Hey Mr. President"; and "Coyote". Transcript includes full song lyrics.

 

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 (23:05)

Transcript:

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York, "Folk Music Worldwide", a program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field.

Now your host for "Folk Music Worldwide," Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): Hello again and welcome to Folk Music Worldwide. This week, as last week, we have Peter La Farge, folk singer from out of the West, part Indian, part cowboy. Why don't we lead off the show with a selection of Peter La Farge's music?

Here's a humorous song from the Cowboy group of music. Peter, what would you say about Lavender Cowboy?

PETER LaFARGE (GUEST): The thing that always amused me about Lavender Cowboy, it's relatively recent, probably originated in oh, the late '20s, maybe the early '30s when the image of the American cowboy was a very pure gentleman on a white horse galloping across the screen in all directions, and the cowboys got so tickled with this, they made this song up about themselves.

ALAN WASSER: All right, Lavender Cowboy as done by Peter La Farge.

[Song Performance: " Lavender Cowboy ", Peter LaFarge]

Lyrics:

He was only a Lavender Cowboy
And the hairs on his chest they were two
But he longed to be somebody's hero
And to fight as them he-men do.

Now hair oils and the many hair tonics and bear grease
He rubbed in each morning and night
But though he gazed into the mirror
No new hairs came in sight.

Well, he fought for his Red Nelly's honor
He framed out the hold-up's nest
And he died with his six-guns a-smoking
But with only...hairs on his chest.

(end of music)

ALAN WASSER: Lavender Cowboy sung by Peter La Farge. Peter, that's a humorous song and there's quite a bit of humor in cowboy songs.

Oh, what about Walking John? That's a humorous song, isn't it?

PETER LaFARGE: Well as a matter of fact this song is quite humorous. It's a very technical song.

It's a classic collected by my father when he took a trip by horseback packing across from New Mexico into Arizona, and I cut it for the Library Congress. It's about a rope horse, which is an animal who is taught to jockey a cowboy into position behind a running steer a cow or a doggie.

A calf is a doggie. And so he can make his throw. There's many technical terms in it to bug you. A horse's head means a horse is bucking.

A horse with the spittle between his feet has his head between his legs, and he's bucking. Cholla is a cactus which supposedly has night vision and can jump 20 feet, and I believe it.

ALAN WASSER: A cactus?

PETER La FARGE: Yes, oh, it's terrible. And, let's see, well there's a "terrapin shell". That's a saddle. "Twine", that's a rope. This is the song kind of talks with you.

ALAN WASSER: Well, now you've got a complete list of what the words in the song Walkin' John mean, let's hear Walkin' John.

[Song Performance: " Walkin' John ", Peter LaFarge]

Lyrics:

Now, Walkin' Johnny was a big rope horse
Come from over Barango Way
When you laid your twine on a raging steer
Old Johnny was there to stay

As long as your terrapin shell stayed on
And your twine was tight and strong
You could dial it well or hard and fast
It was all the same to John

When a lop-eared doggie wouldn't curl his tail
He sat him many nights out to wait
Old Johnny forgetting that scenery
Would hit an amazing gait

He buzzed through that murderous Cholla spikes
Not losing one inch of his stride
And maybe you wished you was home in bed
But brother, he made you ride

Now Johnny he was well and he was stout and strong
Sure-footed and Spanish broken
But I'm telling this knock-kneed universe
Old Johnny did enjoy his joke

Well, soon as the morning sun come up
He would bog his head right down
Till your chaps stuck out like angel's wings
And you hat was a floating crown

Well, that was your breakfast regular
Whether you fell or stuck
I'm a-telling the world, Old Johnny was there
Educating the world to buck

Well, we gave him the name of Walkin' John
One stirring round-up time
And them was the days when beef was beef
And Old Johnny was in his prime

Now Pete he was walking and Tex was sore
And Willie couldn't even talk
When somebody said, "Call him Walkin' John.
He's made all the cowboys walk."

But, hell, he was sold to a livery
What was willing for to take the chance
On Old Johnny becoming a gentleman
Not scared of them English pants.

And maybe 'twas the sight of them toy balloons
What is torn up on tourist legs
But from that time on, Old Walking John
He walked like he walked on eggs

Till a tourist guy, bogged down in a newborn pair of chaps
And the rest of his ignorance plumbed the skies
by the rest of his rig, perhaps
Came a-floundering down to the livery
and demanded for to see the boss

But the boss, he savvied his number right,
and he give him a gentle horse

Now, Walking Johnny had never pitched,
From a year, come the first of June
But I'm telling the company assembled here
Old Johnny recollected soon

Well, somebody wanged that breakfast gong
Though we'd all done had our meat
And Johnny he started to bust in two
With his spittle between his feet

Oh, well the dude took off like a sailing bat
And went floating across the sky
He may not have been built for to aviate
But brother, he sure did fly

Well, we pulled him out of a Cholla bush
And a few of his clothes stayed on
We filled up his pokes and we wired his folks
It was all the same to John

(end of music)

ALAN WASSER: Peter La Farge doing Walkin' John. Peter, that song about a horse that bucked reminds me of another one that, oh, I learned when I was a kid I always...

Another traditional cowboy song about another horse that bucked, called Strawberry Roan. You do that song?

PETER La FARGE: Oh, you bet Alan. I've been doing that song for years. I used to be what we call in that part of the country, a "bronc tiger", which means a young man who hasn't got any sense and per dollar a ride, will take all the bad horses out.

Oh, that's the greatest song for bucking horse people that was ever made. Old Strawberry Roan.

[Song Performance: " Old Strawberry Roan", Peter LaFarge]

Lyrics:

I was hanging round town, just spending my time
Out of a job and not making a dime

When a fella steps up and he says, "I suppose
that you're a bronc rider, by the looks of your clothes."

Well, I said, "Yes, I am, and a good one, I claim."
I said, "Have you got any bad ones to tame?"
He said, "I've got one, and a bad one to buck
and of throwing good riders, he's had lots of luck."

Well, he gets all excited and I asks what he pays
If I rides this old broomtail a couple of days
He offers me ten and I says, "I'm your man,
cause the horse don't exist Old Pete couldn't fan."

Well, I jumped in his buckboard
And rode to his ranch
In his horse corral, there standing alone
Was this so-called vile strawberry roan.

Well, his legs were all spired and he had pigeon toes
Little pig eyes and a big Roman nose
Little pig ears with a split at the tip
And a big 44 brand across his left hip

I throw down my saddle, I pulled down my rig
I climb up aboard him and give him a dig
He went up in the east, he came down in the west
And to stay in his middle, I was doing my best.

Well, he made one big leap and we went up on high
And he set there some mission the length of the sky
He made one more burst and I fell down to earth
And sat there a-cussing the day of his birth

Well, there've been some ponies that Pete couldnít ride
There's quite a few left, and they haven't all died
But I bet all my money ain't no man alive
Can ride Old Strawberry, when he makes that high dive

Stay off of that Strawberry Roan
Stay off of that Strawberry Roan
I'll bet all my money ain't no man alive
Can ride Old Strawberry when he makes that high dive

Stay off of that Strawberry Roan.

(end of music)

ALAN WASSER: The Strawberry Roan sung by Peter La Farge, and he is quite qualified to sing about that song. I'm just looking at the cover of the album that song's on, "Peter La Farge sings the Songs of the Cowboys" on Folkways Records.

And on the cover is a picture of Peter high up in the air on top of a horse called War Paint which is bucking at the Denver National Stock Show. So he's really qualified to sing about bucking horses.

He's also qualified to sing about Indian songs and we're gonna hear some of those in just a moment, but first this message.

( short pause )

All right, this is Alan Wasser again, back at Folk Music Worldwide. We're talking to Peter La Farge, singer of cowboy songs and Indian songs. Before we go back to talking to Peter again, I want to take this moment and urge you to send in letters, postcards just mention us in a letter anything to let us know you've heard the show.

We really crave letters here, we need them badly. We don't get anywhere near enough, not that there is any such thing. We want know that you're listening.

If you just mention the fact you heard the show you can get a QSL Card, acknowledging the fact that you've heard it, just mention the fact that you heard Folk Music Worldwide with Peter La Farge on it.

Well, speaking to Peter La Farge. Let's go back to Peter. Peter, what is the Indianís song's main complaints, main themes today?

PETER LaFARGE: Well. We feel that the termination of the tribes which literally means the ending of the tribes, an attempt which didn't work out very well which was a mistake and is admitted as such by the government of the United States, was...well, I would kind of look at it humorously as a matter of fact.

There's a good deal of humor in Indians. Well, there's a song I do called the "Hey Mr. President", we made up. I've seen Indians danced to this, young men, and it's profound and it's not vicious, it's just the idea of, "What would happen if we started charging the government of the United States rent for all the treaties broken and all the treaties bent."

ALAN WASSER: All right. "Hey, Mr. President", as done by Peter La Farge.

[Song Performance: "Hey Mr. President", Peter LaFarge]

Lyrics:

Hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, for every treaty bent
We're making reservations that are gonna be just for Whites
We'll be honest about the White man's rights

Hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, and every treaty bent
We're gonna be the tourists, we'll come to see you dance
You let us know, the reason why you plans

Hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, and every treaty bent
We're not unpatriotic, we'd just like to see
Like to see your culture, how intriguing it will be

Well now, hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, and every treaty bent
You get out your medicine men, you get out your squaws
We'll give you justice, under Indian laws

Well now, hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, and every treaty bent
I said now, hey, Mr. President, we're gonna charge you rent
For every treaty broken, and every treaty bent.

(end of music)

ALAN WASSER: That song by Peter La Farge, "Hey, Mr. President" is a humorous one but I know one of the songs that Peter does is not humorous. It's another Indian song.

We had quite a discussion about it before we went on air today. Maybe, we can recreate some of that discussion for our listeners. I think it would be interesting.

The song by the way, is called "Coyote". Peter, first I want you tell us something about what it's about.

PETER LaFARGE: "Coyote" is, it's a protest song in a way or it's a song that is drawing attention to something which offends American Indians.

ALAN WASSER: Well, specifically what?

PETER LaFARGE: Well, specifically the use of insecticides, the use of poisons to upset the balance of nature. And we include naturally in this, fallout, radiation.

Now, did you know, by the way, that we've got Eskimos up in Alaska that are gonna have to be moved because they're radioactive.

ALAN WASSER: Yes, well of course this is going to be a lot better now with the test ban.

PETER LaFARGE: Yes, and we're for that, and I'm very happy that happened.

ALAN WASSER: Well now, all Americans, I imagine all people of the world are concerned about this sort of thing and anxious that it be straightened out, but why particularly are the Indians concerned, any more so than the rest of America?

PETER LaFARGE: Because I believe this, I think this. We, religiously, we believe in a unity of man and his surroundings.

That a man must be responsible for the sun rising, that he is responsible for the summer turning to winter and the winter to summer, that the earth is alive and man is alive, that a man's responsibility for man, other men is just as important as the responsibility to the sun and the winds and the rain. This is a unity.

You can't upset this balance without making everyone sick. Whether you make them sick spiritually, impure spiritually, or you do it by dropping, by making them poisoned, by killing off the coyotes whom we in my language call "little brother".

You can't do it, that's all. It upsets things and it makes the God sick.

ALAN WASSER: Well, with that as an introduction, let's hear Peter La Farge doing "Coyote".

[Song Performance: "Coyote", Peter LaFarge]

Lyrics:

Coyote, coyote, what have they done?
Little brother, where, oh where, do you run?

They strychnine the mountains, they strychnine the plains
My little brother, the coyote, won't come back again
When you hear him singing, the few that are left
His warning you of his death

Don't poison the mesas, don't poison the skies
Or you won't be back, little brother, goodbye
There'll be no one to listen and no one to sing
And never, and never, will there be Spring

Coyote, coyote, what have they done?
Little brother, where, oh where, do you run?

(end of music)

(Spoken part of recording: )

You poison the Coyotes and then you have too many rabbits and too many prairie dogs. So you poison the rabbits and the prairie dogs and then you have too many weeds and you have too many bushes growing.

And you have too many rattlesnakes so you poison those. Then you have to go out and you dig those up. And you dig those up and you start erosion. And then you wonder where did the Coyote go, where we are we all going?

Well, now for the first time, American Indians believe that this new generation the younger people not only in this country but across the world are not a generation, that they cannot be compared to any other generation.

Because we believe they're beginning the beginning of an era, that they are making their own rules. And we believe that the unity that very simple unity of man to man is now going to become a fact. We're very happy about this.

(end of recording)

ALAN WASSER: Well. That was Peter La Farge and I know a lot of our listeners are going to want to know where they can get a hold of some of his records.

Two of them I'd recommend, the one that song was on is "As long as the grass shall grow", Peter La Farge sings of the Indians on Folkways Records. And I mentioned the "Peter Lafarge sings of the Cowboys" earlier.

Peter, you have any other records coming out in the near future?

PETER LaFARGE: Yes. I made a children's album called "A Day on The Ranch" which I think is going to be a lot of fun for children, because they can play games to it. I have them getting on horses and you have to ride a horse from place to place, task to task.

And it's good for children to have things like that. It's based on the sort of...what kind of games Indian children play.

ALAN WASSER: Are you doing any tours outside of the United States in the near future? Any chance of any of our listeners seeing you in person?

PETER LaFARGE: I have no idea whether I'll be able to leave this country. I would like to, but my work is at the moment with my people, the American Indians and I think we feel we have a great responsibility right now in this new era to... a responsibility of morality to our country. So I don't think I'll be able to leave.

ALAN WASSER: Well. We're just out of time, I want to thank you very much for coming in. I've enjoyed your music a great deal and thank you very much.

PETER La FARGE: Thank you very much, Alan Wasser, and what is our engineer's name?

ALAN WASSER: Joe Garafalo.

PETER LaFARGE: Well. Thank you Joe, you put up a lot of trouble here, very much.

ALAN WASSER: And thanks to our listeners too.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been "Folk Music Worldwide." Devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world, spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field.

If you have any suggestions, requests, or comments, why not write in to "Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York, WRUL, New York City, 19 U.S.A." This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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