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10 Songs From the Desert Southwest

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Grand Canyon sunset viewed from Yavapai Point

Grand Canyon sunset viewed from Yavapai Point

Southwest USA

Often characterized by spectacular red rock vistas and gargantuan river canyons, the southwestern portion of the United States is a place often overshadowed by its own picturesque landmarks, aura, and mystique. The Grand Canyon of northern Arizona may be the most noted of these places, but other locales, like Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah, add much to the natural beauty of the region.

Just as colorful as the desert scenery are the many kinds of people who now call the Four Corners region home. Ranging from the numerous Native Americans, who were the first to dwell in this unforgiving, arid land, to the more recent settlers, explorers, homesteaders, miners, and ranchers, the human panorama of the Southwest may be just as fascinating as the natural one.

"Don't Waste" by Figgy

This visual celebration of this part of the country begins with a time lapse film put together by GOTM films to the music of Figgy: "Don't Waste."

Monument Valley in the Four Corners region is a popular park that is owned and managed by the Navajo Nation.

Monument Valley in the Four Corners region is a popular park that is owned and managed by the Navajo Nation.

Songs From the Native Quarter

The Southwestern portion of the United States abounds with various and numerous Native groups. Featured here are two contemporary bands of musicians, who are both centered around the Northern Pueblos of New Mexico.

"Prayer Song" by Red Thunder

First up is "Prayer Song", as performed by Red Thunder, a four-member band who gained some success in the mid-nineties.

"Medicine Man" by Robert Mirabal

More recent, "Medicine Man" is a song written by Robert Mirabal and performed on NPS in a program called Music From a Painted Cave.

The Roadrunner and Coyote have been gracing American movie screens and TV since 1949

The Roadrunner and Coyote have been gracing American movie screens and TV since 1949

Songs Featuring Modern Southwestern Imagery

If the desert panoramas, have come to define a modern-day vision of the arid Southwest, then perhaps the cartoon adventures of the Roadrunner and the Coyote might also have a lot to say about this arid region.

"Coyote" by Mark Knopfler

In the first number, Scottish-born guitarist Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) demonstrates his slickrock guitar style and songwriting skills in this contemporary interpretation of that Warners Brothers classic cartoon about the Roadrunner and Coyote. Told from the Roadrunner's point-of-view, this laid-back musical style fits travel around the Southwestern back roads so very well.

"Durango" by J.J. Cale

On a similar note, I have also included J.J. Cale and his instrumental tribute to Durango, a small Colorado town that sits in the canyon country near Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. Cale is the elder musician, so take a close listen and see if you can hear his distinct guitar style echoed in the first song.

This Utah Ghost Town Building was used as a set in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

This Utah Ghost Town Building was used as a set in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Songs From the Movies

Not surprisingly, states of the desert Southwest, especially Arizona and Utah, have been home to many Westerns and Cowboy films. So much so, that places like Monument Valley and Death Valley are forever imprinted in the minds of many moviegoers.

"Ballad of Cable Hogue" by Calexico

First up is the "Ballad of Cable Hogue" as performed by Calexico, which is not only the name of a band, but also a border town, located in Southern California. Back in 1990, the Tex-Mex band wrote this song, which is heavily inspired and loosely follows the plot of the 1970 movie by the same name.

"Comanchero" by Mister Neutrino

A Comanchero is an old western term used to describe a shady group of New Mexico residents that aided the Comanche warriors and raiders, who for a few long years, rained havoc on the Western frontier.

More recently, in 1952, a novel (by Paul Wellman), simply called Comancheros, was written about the very same bunch of outlaws. Soon thereafter, Hollywood picked up on the story and released Comancheros, starring John Wayne.

Finally, many years later, a surf rock band, named Mister Neutrino, put together this lively instrumental also called "Comanchero." The only similarity to the book and the movie is the title, yet this recorded number with its solemn trumpet accompaniment captures an Old West flavor that is rarely matched.

Western Drifter Songs

The Old West is filled with stories of the drifter, the loner, the gunslinger and the traveler. The next three songs deal with this myth.

"Big Iron" by Marty Robbins

First, there is "Big Iron", a Marty Robbins Old West tune from his legendary Gunslingers album. Even though this is only an audio recording, Robbins' storytelling skill comes through loud and clear.

"Anybody Going to San Antone" by Charley Pride

"Sedona" by Houndsmouth

After the Old West gunslinger story, we have two contemporary accounts of rambling across the Southwest. Both songs are written by Easterners from Mississippi and Indiana, who for some reason or another found themselves drifting across the Southwest in search of modern-day adventure.

Back to the Grand Canyon

Since I began with a glimpse of the Grand Canyon, I'll return there for this final number.

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain" by Music Travel Love

This is a song performed by Music Travel Love. This portion of the Southwest is extreme desert, dry and furrowed with bare rock ridges and deep canyons.

© 2019 Harry Nielsen