Western music is the latter half of what during the 1930s and '40s came to be called ‘country and western music.’ Cowboy songs, though, are as old as the cowboy tradition--or older, as some date back centuries. At their most basic level they're simply folksongs, with melodies and lyrics geared toward (and in some cases rewritten to reflect) distinctly western situations and myths--the harsh reality of long, dusty cattle drives; the melancholy of a dying gunfighter. Like early commercial country (a.k.a. hillbilly) artists, cowboy singers began recording in the early 1920s, and early stars like Harry McClintock ("The Big Rock Candy Mountain") were quite popular. Some had actually worked as cowboys (Carl T. Sprague), while others were simply fascinated, like most Americans, with the western mystique. During the '30s, however, that fascination shot into the stratosphere, thanks to the popularity of singing-cowboy movies and stars like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The popularity of western movies (singing or no singing) and cowboy music had died down by the '60s. However, contemporary western artists like Ian Tyson, Riders in the Sky, and Tom Russell still enjoy sizable followings, and cowboy festivals (featuring both poetry and music) attract surprisingly large and robust crowds.
Notable Artists: Patsy Montana, Sons of the Pioneers, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter