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Published on Jun 5, 2012
A light hearted tribute to the late, great Stan Jones in honor of the 49th anniversary of his departure from this realm.
"(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend" is a country cowboy-style song. It was written on June 5, 1948 by Douglas Arizona native Stan Jones. First commercial recording performed by Burl Ives and a number of versions were crossover hits on the pop charts in 1949. The ASCAP database lists the song as "Riders in the Sky", but the title varies, for example "Ghost Riders", "Ghost Riders in the Sky" or even "A Cowboy Legend".
As legend tells it, Stan Jones was helping a rancher tie down the blades of a windmill east of Douglas, Arizona in preparation for an approaching storm. The rancher is said to have commented on the clouds approaching like a heard of ghost cattle. Some time later, when he was a park ranger in Death Valley, Stan Jones wrote the song.
Riders in the Sky: a Cowboy Legend, is about a cowboy who has a vision of red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky, being chased by the ghosts of damned cowboys. One warns him that if he does not change his ways he will be doomed to join them, forever "trying to catch the Devil's herd across these endless skies".
Many artists have recorded versions of this classic. It is said that Riders in the Sky is the most covered song ever. Charting versions were recorded by Vaughn Monroe ("Riders in the Sky" with orchestra and vocal quartet), by Bing Crosby (with the Ken Darby Singers), Frankie Laine, Marty Robbins and by Johnny Cash. Other contemporary versions were recorded by Peggy Lee (with the Jud Conlon Singers), and by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Gene Autry sang the song in his 1949 movie, Riders in the Sky.Children of Bodom also made a notable cover. One of the most popular versions is that of Johnny Cash.
According to Robby Krieger this song inspired the classic Doors song "Riders on the Storm.
Stan Jones went on to act in and write music for film and television including the theme song for the TV series Cheyenne, which ran from 1955 to 1963.