Western Song: Red Headed Stranger
Members of the Western Writers of America included Red Headed Stranger in their list of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
Entertainment critic and lyricist Edith Lindeman wrote the Red Headed Stranger with composer and radio announcer Carl Stutz in 1953. Before working on the song, they collaborated on other popular country songs such as “Little Things Mean A Lot” and “Blackberry Winter.” The song was originally a Western ballad for Perry Como. However, because of a publishing dispute, he wasn’t able to record the song.
In June 1954, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith recorded a version of the song, releasing its single in July 1954 on MGM Records. The song did not chart, but it received good radio airplay, drawing requests even years after its initial release.
Country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson popularized this Western ballad as the title track of his Billboard Country chart-topping 1975 album of the same name. During Red Headed Stranger’s original release (Smith’s version), Nelson would perform the song as a lullaby for children at bedtime through his radio program, The Western Express. In 1974, Connie Koepke, his then-wife, suggested writing a Western concept album inspired by the Red Headed Stranger. The album’s concept revolved around a fugitive on the run after killing his unfaithful wife and her lover. Along with other songs and original compositions, the album became certified Gold in 1976 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Moreover, it became a Certified Double-platinum on November 21, 1986. Nelson also played the title character in the 1986 film inspired by his album name, with Morgan Fairchild playing his cheating wife.
Aside from Smith and Nelson, several other singers released their versions of Red Headed Stranger, such as Eddy Arnold and Carla Bozulich.
About the Song
Lindeman revealed that the redhead she had in mind during the songwriting process was her red-headed husband.
The song follows a Red Headed Stranger from Blue Rock, Montana, who rambles into town on a raging black stallion. The stranger meets a yellow-haired lady in a tavern who followed him as he left the place. Later, he shot the woman as she grabs his late wife’s horse. The stranger leaves the town as he was not guilty of the crime, considering the lady tried to steal his horse.
Some of the most popular versions of the song were recorded by the following artists:
- Arthur Smith and His Cracker-Jacks
- Eddy Arnold
- John D. Loudermilk
- David Hill
- Sonny curtis
- Bobbie and Smoky Coats
- David Troy
- Willie Nelson
- Red Steagal
- Chris LeDoux
- Carla Bozulich
- Pamela McNeill
- Willie Nelson and Jack White
- The Petersens
Listen to Red Headed Stranger (Willie Nelson Version)
Red Headed Stranger Lyrics
The red-headed stranger from Blue Rock Montana Rode into town one day And under his knees was a ragin' black stallion Walkin' behind was a bay The red-headed stranger had eyes like the thunder His lips they were sad and tight His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside And his heart was heavy as night. Don't cross him don't boss him He's wild in his sorrow He's ridin' an' hidin' his pain Don't fight him don't spite him Wait till tomorrow Maybe he'll ride on again. A yellow-haired lady leaned out of her window And watched as he passed her way She drew back in fear at the sight of the stallion But cast greedy eyes on the bay But how could she know that this dancin' bay pony Meant more to him than life For this was the horse that his little lost darlin' Had ridden when she was his wife. Don't cross him don't boss him He's wild in his sorrow He's ridin' an' hidin' his pain Don't fight him don't spite him Wait till tomorrow Maybe he'll ride on again. The yellow-haired lady came down to the tavern And looked up the stranger there He bought her a drink and gave her some money He just didn't seem to care She followed him out as he saddled his stallion An' laughed as she grabbed at the bay He shot her so quick they had no time to warn her She never heard anyone say... "Don't cross him, don't boss him. "He's wild in his sorrow: "He's ridin' an' hidin' his pain. "Don't fight him, don't spite him; "Wait till tomorrow, "Maybe he'll ride on again." The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset Stranger went free of course. For you can't hang a man for killin' a woman Who's tryin' to steal your horse. This is the tale of the red headed stranger And if he should pass your way Stay out of the path of the ragin' black stallion And don't lay a hand on the bay. Don't cross him don't boss him He's wild in his sorrow He's ridin' an' hidin' his pain Don't fight him don't spite him Just wait till tomorrow Maybe he'll ride on again.