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Ken Maynard

Sings 'The Lone Star Trail'

The Story Of Hollywood's First Singing Cowboy

From humble beginnings in the Ohio River town of Vevay in southern Indiana, Kenneth Olin Maynard became a Twentieth Century Renaissance Man -- a horseman of the highest order who parlayed his riding and roping skills into rodeo championships, circus and Wild West showmanship and, ultimately, to the highest reaches of Hollywood fame and fortune. As the Twenties roared to a close and America fell into the depths of the Depression, Maynard's star continued to rise, and in 1929 he used another of his latent talents, music, to become the country's first celluloid 'Singing Cowboy,' warbling the Western classic, The Lone Star Trail in Universal's 'The Wagon Master.'

The following spring, on April 14, 1930, Maynard accompanied himself on guitar during his only professional recording session, producing eight sides in Columbia's Hollywood studios. Only one record was released – Columbia 2310-D – billing Maynard as 'The American Boy's Favorite Cowboy,' and featuring, along with The Lone Star Trail, another Western staple from the John Lomax songbook, The Cowboy's Lament. The record was not a commercial success, but over time these two modest sides made their mark, with Trail finding its way onto the iconic collection, the 'Anthology Of American Folk Music' in 1952, where editor Harry Smith deemed "this passionate description of life" to be "one of the very few recordings of authentic 'cowboy' singing."

A half century later, rock critic Greil Marcus used an extended discussion of the 'Anthology' as the backdrop for his book-length exploration of Bob Dylan's 'Basement Tapes' in The Old, Weird America. Equating Maynard's recording of The Lone Star Trail with "the truest, highest, most abandoned moments in American speech," Marcus says of the recording: "With a passion words and melody can elicit but not account for, movie star Ken Maynard…ambles out the soundtrack of 'The Wagon Master' to chant and moan, yodel and wail, stare and tremble, more alone, more stoic and more restless between heaven and nature, than anyone has before. The shape of the land, its vast expanse, its indifference to who you are or what you want, looms up as this solitary figure says his piece: I am the first cowboy and I am the last. Here no one sees me, myself least of all, I am happy, I am free."

Trail, Lament and a third track, Home On The Range, made their way onto obscure collections of Western recordings over the years,[i] but the remaining five sides from the Columbia session are seeing their first commercial release here, more than seventy-five years later.

Although he was born and raised in the small-town Midwest (not Mission, Texas, as he and his studio biographers claimed), Maynard's professional experience as a circus and Wild West showman qualified him as an 'authentic' cowboy, who used his skills (and those of his beautiful palomino, Tarzan) to set new standards for horsemanship in Western film. Maynard followed up on the musical experiment of 'The Wagon Master' by incorporating music in a series of films culminating with 'The Strawberry Roan' in 1933, a film that brought music into a dramatic storyline strategically and effectively, giving rise to techniques still used today from film musicals to music videos. In many ways, 'The Strawberry Roan' was Maynard's crowning achievement, and a film he remembered fondly even in his last days in 1973.

Ken Maynard's restless and creative mind also had its dark and dependent side. Increasingly torn by the dichotomy between his on-screen image and off-screen realities, his affection for alcohol became an addiction, fueling a hot temper that alienated him from the Hollywood machine that had made him a wealthy man. Into this breach stepped a young Gene Autry, who had moved to Los Angeles from the WLS Barn Dance radio show in Chicago in 1934. Autry's breakthrough performance in 'In Old Santa Fe' put him in a position to build the singing cowboy experiment into a bona fide genre he then commanded for decades. Before any of that could happen however, Ken Maynard laid the groundwork with a vision, guitar, fiddle and a high lonesome nasal twang that has echoed through the years.

In the life of Ken Maynard we encounter an early Twentieth Century America, brimming with possibility and fortune, especially for those able to translate the developing frontier myth into the 'West' of our popular imagination. Maynard caught that wave and fell to earth, but, like a true cowboy hero, dusted himself off, got back in the saddle, and rode a slow fade into the sunset until the ripe old age of 78, leaving a lasting impact on the worlds of film, music and Western showmanship.

* * *

Home On The Ohio

Our story begins in the tiny town of Vevay, just blocks from the banks of the mighty Ohio River, in southern-most Indiana, on July 21, 1895. The stately B. F. Schenk Mansion stood on a bluff above the town, boasting a commanding view of the river as it bent west and then south toward its confluence with the Mississippi and on to New Orleans. Schenk's father, known as the 'Hay King' for his hold on the market for processing the commodity into bundles for shipping down river, had built his own manse, a brick, white-pillared home on the riverbank. In between these stately homes lay the flats of Vevay, where Emma Mae Maynard (nee Stewart),a carpenter's wife, labored at home with the birth of her first child, Kenneth Olin Maynard.

By this time Vevay was a bustling river town, lying in Switzerland County, named for the primary settlers of the area, who had come from the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in the early 1800s, establishing farms and vineyards, and harvesting the fertile woodlands of southern Indiana. As local commerce developed, merchant entrepreneurs like the Schenks became established, trading with local farmers, and servicing the area with groceries, dry goods, hardware and lumber, as well as finished goods brought in from markets to the east.

 Ken Maynard Sings The Lone Star Trail
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Ken Maynard: Sings The Lone Star Trail
Art-Nr.: BCD16861

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1-CD-Album Digipak (4-seitig) mit 79-seitigem Booklet, 8 Einzeltitel. Spieldauer ca. 26 Minuten. Diese CD-Kopplung enthält die kompletten Musikaufnahmen von Ken Maynard , Hollywoods erstem singenden Cowboy. Als er 1929 im Universal-Film 'The Wagon Master' den Song...

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