Red Headed Stranger
Western Music
The Lone Writer  

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.

Popular Recordings

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
  • Shockabilly
  • 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.

Leave A Comment

book cover mockup for Western Writing

Looking for an Epic Western Adventure? Look No Further!

How would you like to ride hell-bent for leather into a world full of adventure and heroism?

Get Your Free Copy Today>>