A Comprehensive Look at One of the Greats

The Essential Gene Autry (Columbia/Legacy)
Gene Autry

By Bob Mitchell

One of my greatest childhood thrills was attending the Saturday afternoon Western at our neighborhood theatre. It was a simpler time and problems were quickly and righteously solved by the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. This blockbuster release anticipates the centennial anniversary of Autry's birth in 1907 and is the first double CD anthology devoted to the singing cowboy's catalog from the period between 1931 and 1953. It contains two hours of some of the best authentic Western music you will ever hear. Forty enjoyable tracks slip by very quickly.

Autry broadened the appeal of cowboy music by taking the sound to a nationwide audience, via records and radio broadcasts. As his repertoire evolved from Jimmie Rodgers-style blues to Western music and country-pop, the sound of Country & Western music became a sensation. During Autry's four decades of recording, he cut more than 600 `sides,' earned multiple gold records and left an enduring body of work. At the core of his career as a film, radio and television star was an output of records that sold more than 100 million copies during his lifetime.

This recording contains a generous collection of musical masterpieces too extensive to list. Some of the tracks, however, must be mentioned: "That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine" (an Autry original that was the country's first million-selling record in 1935); "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (his second million-seller); "Back In The Saddle Again" (his third); "South Of The Border" (the fourth); "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" (number five); "You Are My Sunshine"; "Deep In The Heart Of Texas"; "I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes"; "I Hang My Head And Cry"; "Don't Fence Me In"; "Home On The Range" and "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

In 1947, he co-wrote and recorded "Here Comes Santa Claus," a prelude to 1949's "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer," which sold more than 30 million copies and vies with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" as the biggest yuletide recording of all time. "Peter Cottontail" followed in 1950. Autry's final years in the studio are represented by a fascinating array of material: Woody and Jack Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills"; Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene"; Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and traditional folk songs such as "On Top Of Old Smokey" and the "Old Chisholm Trail."

If you love authentic Western music, this collection is a must have. If you have never experienced the satisfaction of the "real thing" you will enjoy this collection. Satisfaction guaranteed.