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And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I'll be this poem, I'll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we'll be good, and we'll be free.
                                   from "Anthem," by Buck Ramsey

 

Buck Ramsey (1938-1998) is widely acknowledged as the "spiritual leader" of the cowboy poetry movement. In December, 2005, Texas Tech University press brought out the long-awaited Buck Ramsey's Grass, with essays on his life and work. The publisher describes the book:

First published as And As I Rode Out on the Morning, Buck Ramsey’s epic poem of cowboy life is a classic. In this edition, the editors have restored the poem’s original title, "Grass," and have gathered insightful commentaries on Ramsey’s work from poets, musicians, historians, and others devoted to the cowboy way and movement. Completing the package are Ramsey’s original short story on which he based the poem and a CD of the original 1990 recording of Ramsey performing "Grass" in John Hartford’s home studio in Nashville, introduced by Andy Wilkinson.

Along with Buck Ramsey's prose and poetry, the book includes other treasures, including all of respected cowboy artist Walt LaRue's original drawings, created for And As I Rode Out on the Morning but not printed in that book; commentary from poets, folklorists, and friends, including Virginia Bennett, the late J. B. Allen (including a poem), Joel Nelson, Andy Wilkinson, Hal Cannon, Theresa Jordan, and Susan Kouyomjian; rare photos; images of historic Texas brands; and moving pieces by Buck Ramsey's wife of 34 years, co-editor Bette Ramsey.

With thanks to Bette Ramsey, Andy Wilkinson, Virginia Bennett, Scott Braucher, and Texas Tech University Press for their help and kind permissions, we're pleased to have excerpts and information from Buck Ramsey's Grass, with essays on his life and work.  

Below, from Buck Ramsey's Grass:

Introduction to Buck Ramsey's Grass, by Bette Ramsey
About Buck Ramsey (excerpt) by Buck Ramsey
From "On Buck and His Work" (excerpt) by Virginia Bennett
Introduction to the CD by Andy Wilkinson
Poem: Anthem

Buck Ramsey's Grass' table of contents
CD track information

Order information

Review by Dr. Guy Logsdon

Additional links and information

 


photo by Scott Braucher, from Buck Ramsey's Grass, used with permission
Buck Ramsey and J. B. Allen on stage at the 
Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 1993


 

Below:

Introduction to Buck Ramsey's Grass, by Bette Ramsey
About Buck Ramsey (excerpt) by Buck Ramsey
From "On Buck and His Work" (excerpt) by Virginia Bennett
Introduction to the CD
by Andy Wilkinson
Poem: Anthem

 

Introduction to Buck Ramsey's Grass, by Bette Ramsey

Buck Ramsey's epic poem Grass began as a short story called "A Beginning." Later he rewrote it for a magazine and named it "The Wagon Incident."  The poem, originally published in 1993 as And As I Rode Out in the Morning, did not include all of the artwork Buck wished to use to illustrate the text, nor did it include any historic photos.  When I decided to republish the manuscript as Buck originally intended, with photographs and illustrations, I also wanted to add context to the poem by including "The Wagon Incident."  As I talked about the project with our friends, it was obvious that Buck's work affected many people who wanted to share what he meant to them, so I asked a few people to put their thoughts on paper. In addition to Grass in its entirety, this book includes "The Wagon Incident" and essays by other cowboy poets and writers reflecting on Buck's work and his life.

                                                                                                    Bette Ramsey
                                                                                                    Amarillo, Texas, 2004

 

from Buck Ramsey's Grass, © 2005, Texas Tech University Press.  All rights reserved.

 


About Buck Ramsey (excerpt) by Buck Ramsey

I did most of my growing up and got the best part of my education around the cowboys in the Canadian River Breaks of Texas.  We lived on a relatively small outfit, but we were surrounded by the big outfits--the Bivins Coldwater Cattle Company, the Kilgores, the upper Matadors down the road.  When we went to Channing to get supplies, cowboys still tethered their horses and walked the short main street, and the air was filled with the sound of spurs jingling in unison with the clop of boot heels on the old boardwalk where the cowboys strolled in full regalia. When I was very young, I thought of the cowboys as gods and wanted to walk and talk like them, be like them, and know and live by their ways.

I learned to write at Middlewell School, a two-room schoolhouse north of the Canadian River in the Panhandle of Texas.  There were four grades in each room. From the fifth grade we started unavoidably learning what the eighth graders were learning, so by the eighth grade we were having sentence diagramming contests that covered three walls of blackboard space. After I left Middlewell I was a very poor student, so although I seemed to have continued sopping up knowledge where I could, I come to what I am today with little formal education

The early influences on my writing, in addition to cowboy songs and poems and stories and an immense variety of books checked out of the Middlewell Library and found in the attic of the ranch house in which we lived, were the King James version of the Bible, the sermons of Pirmitive Baptist preachers, and those ancient old hymns sung by the congregations of that denomination. These latter seemed to have affected my ear for language more than they influenced my attitutde about life and the world around me.  ...continued in Buck Ramsey's Grass...

                                                                                                                      Buck Ramsey
                                                                                                                      Amarillo, Texas, 1993

 

     from Buck Ramsey's Grass, © 2005, Texas Tech University Press.  All rights reserved.

 


From "On Buck and His Work" (excerpt) by Virginia Bennett

At the time of this writing, it has been almost six years since Buck Ramsey left this earth he loved so well. It seems longer. It feels like forever since I've heard that Panhandle drawl that brought life and truth to words . . . not only to his words but also to song lyrics written a hundred years ago, like Buck's rendition of "A Cowboy's Letter from Home."  Inside Buck Ramsey was that lonely young boy who had to leave home and find work on the wide, rolling plains.

Thus, in Buck's own epic poem, we learn of Billy Deaver, a boy full of hope and promise who became the embodiment of Buck Ramsey. I know how poetry or a fictional story is written. How, like a jigsaw puzzle, it is created from countless first-hand, real-life experiences and images, becoming a composite piece that overall is fiction but holds reality within each line. When these events and thoughts are glued together by the talent and mind of one such as Buck, we see who the author really was. Through his honest pen, we see the heart of the poet Buck Ramsey. ...continued in Buck Ramsey's Grass...

                                                                                                             Virginia Bennett                             
                                                                                                             San Miguel, California, 2003


photo by Pete Bennett, used with permission; included in Buck Ramsey's Grass,
Virginia Bennett, Buck Ramsey and Andy Wilkinson
at Santa Clarita, California, in 1995

    from Buck Ramsey's Grass, © 2005, Texas Tech University Press.  All rights reserved.

 


Introduction to the CD by Andy Wilkinson

If Buck Ramsey had a greater talent than his art, it was his ease for making and keeping friends.  He and Eddie Reeves met in high school, becoming pals the summer of 1957, brought together by a mutual love of music as much as anything.

Eddie went on to success, first as a song writer, then later as an executive at Warner Brothers' Nashville operation, keeping in touch with Buck all those years.

When Buck had his horse wreck in the early 1960s, it was Eddie who brought an old Martin guitar to the hospital, giving the convalescing paraplegic something to replace the cowpunching he could no longer do horseback.  Some thirty years later, Eddie realized—as he put it—that Buck wasn't going to go get success, success was going to have to go get Buck, so Eddie encouraged him to try his hand at writing commercial country songs, invited him out to Nashville, put him up in a hotel, and did what he could to get him into the business.

Just before that trip to Tennessee, and not long after he'd finished the first draft of this poem, Buck had made a new friend of his long-time idol, folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott. They'd met at the Elko Cowboy Poetry gathering in one of those famous after-hours jam sessions at the Stockman's Hotel where Buck and Jack swapped poems and songs into the small hours of the morning.  By happy coincidence, it turned out that Jack would be in Nashville in just a couple of months, the same time that Buck was planning to be there to work with Eddie. Ramblin' Jack was especially taken with one of the poems he'd heard Buck recite and suggested that Buck get it down on tape, mentioning that he had a friend in Nashville, musician John Hartford, who had a nicely-appointed home studio.

What you're about to hear is that recording, the first ever made of the modern cowboy classic "Grass."  If you follow along in the text, you'll note that Buck made a number of changes in the poem between this version and the final, more polished one that you're reading.  It's an excellent example of how a piece of writing grows and settles-in.  And though it's not in the text, you'll also hear in the background the laughter and comments and applause of John Hartford and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

There's one more small, but important, part of the story.  When Texas Tech University Press came to reissue the poem, Buck's widow Bette suggested that they use this recording, the one that Buck had always thought of as his best, his favorite.  But the only copy she had was damaged, and as John Hartford had also since died, there was little hope of reclaiming it. Luckily, Buck's long-time friend Eddie Reeves had saved the original and was able to track down a studio with the machinery to transfer it into a contemporary format from which the engineer was then able to restore the damaged parts.  So as you listen to this piece of history, remember that it's one that would have been lost but for the circle of friendship.  And that's pure Buck Ramsey.

                                                                                                         Andy Wilkinson

from Buck Ramsey's Grass, © 2005, Texas Tech University Press.  All rights reserved.

 


Poem: "Anthem"

 

Anthem

And in the morning I was riding
Out through the breaks of that long plain,
And leather creaking on the quieting
Would sound with trot and trot again.
I lived in time with horse hoof falling;
I listened well and heard the calling
The earth, my mother, bade to me,
Though I would still ride wild and free.
And as I flew out in the morning,
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good, and we were free.

We were not told, but ours the knowing
We were the native strangers there
Among the things the land was growing—
To know this gave us more the care
To let the grass keep at its growing
And let the streams keep at their flowing.
We knew the land would not be ours,
That no one has the awful pow'rs
To claim the vast and common nesting,
To own the life that gave him birth,
Much less to rape his mother earth
And ask her for a mother's blessing
And ever live in peace with her,
And, dying, come to rest with her.

Oh, we would ride and we would listen
And hear the message on the wind.
The grass in morning dew would glisten
Until the sun would dry and blend
The grass to ground and air to skying.
We'd know by bird or insect flying
Or by their mood or by their song
If time and moon were right or wrong
For fitting works and rounds to weather.
The critter coats and leaves of trees
Might flash some signal with a breeze—
Or wind and sun on flow'r or feather.
We knew our way from dawn to dawn,
And far beyond, and far beyond.

It was the old ones with me riding
Out through the fog fall of the dawn,
And they would press me to deciding
If we were right or we were wrong.
For time came we were punching cattle
For men who knew not spur nor saddle,
Who came with locusts in their purse
To scatter loose upon the earth.
The savage had not found this prairie
Till some who hired us came this way
To make the grasses pay and pay
For some raw greed no wise or wary
Regard for grass could satisfy.
The old ones wept and so did I.
Do you remember? We'd come jogging
To town with jingle in our jeans,
And in the wild night we'd be bogging
Up to our hats in last month's dreams.
It seemed the night could barely hold us
With all those spirits to embold' us
While, horses waiting on three legs,
We'd drain the night down to the dregs.
And just before beyond redemption
We'd gather back to what we were.
We'd leave the money left us there
And head our horses for the wagon.
But in the ruckus, in the whirl,
We were the wolves of all the world.

The grass was growing scarce for grazing,
Would soon turn sod or soon turn bare.
The money men set to replacing
The good and true in spirit there.
We could not say, there was no knowing,
How ill the future winds were blowing.
Some cowboys even shunned the ways
Of cowboys in the trail herd days
(But where's the gift not turned for plunder?),
Forgot that we are what we do
And not the stuff we lay claim to.
I dream the spell that we were under;
I throw in with a cowboy band
And go out horseback through the land.

So mornings now I'll go out riding
Through pastures of my solemn plain,
And leather creaking in the quieting
Will sound with trot and trot again.
I'll live in time with horse hoof falling;
I'll listen well and hear the calling
The earth, my mother, bids to me,
Though I will still ride wild and free.
And as I ride out on the morning
Before the bird, before the dawn,
I'll be this poem, I'll be this song.
My heart will beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen will ride all with me,
And we'll be good, and we'll be free.

© 1993, Buck Ramsey, All Rights Reserved

 


Book Contents

 

 

Buck Ramsey's Grass: with essays on his life and work

Foreword by B. Byron Price
Acknowledgements
Introduction
by Bette Ramsey
About Buck Ramsey

Buck Ramsey's GRASS

Prologue
The Story
Epilogue

The Wagon Incident

On Buck and his Work

Susan Kouyomjian
Virginia Bennett
Joel Nelson
Andy Wilkinson
Hal Cannon
Theresa Jordan

Remembering Buck

J. B. Allen
     Requiem for a Friend
     Tendrils

Afterword
Illustration Credits


CD Track Information


 1   Introduction, by Andy Wilkinson
 2   "Anthem": "And in the morning I was riding out on the breaks of that long plain..."
 3   "One": "A pattern of the past comes surface in dapple shadows on the floor ..."
 4   "Two": "And in those years the ancient prairie had lived its way for all its time..."
 5   "Three": "They trundled over rolling prairie of grasses strewn with clumps of brush ..."
 6   "Four": "As Billy tempered his calling and took him on the cowboy way ..."
 7   "Five": "But this fine tale of cowboy romance left Billy's whirl in second place ..."
 8   "Six":  "The work of spring was soon behind him ..."
 9   "Seven":  "And in the morning he was riding through low grass hills for that long plain..."
10  "Eight":  "Five good and true men were selected to be the jury in the trial..."
11  "Nine": "He takes his hat and combs his fingers back through his wavy raven hair..."
12  "Ten": "Among the cowboys a contagion of muddy tears had spread throughout..."


Order Information

 

170 pages. 68 b/w halftones, 21 b/w line art, CD

Buck Ramsey's Grass: with essays on his life and art (ISBN: 0896725693) book with accompanying CD, is available from Texas Tech University Press (call 800.832.4042 or 806.742.2982 to order) for $29.95 plus postage; and from other booksellers, including Amazon

From the front cover:

“One of the most revered figures in cowboy subculture.”—Texas Monthly

From the back cover:

“The story of Billy Deaver’s entry into manhood and the world is a tale that was lived in the flesh by hundreds of young cowboys in the days of the big ranches and long cattle drives. It is a Texas story, a Western story, an American story. This book serves as tribute to a man who is sorely missed, but whose spirit lives gloriously in his work.”—Bryan Woolley

“A literary genius, Buck is and always will be my hero.”—Red Steagall


Review by Dr. Guy Logsdon

This outstanding poetic epic is a story that Buck Ramsey wrote about a young farm boy, Billy Deaver, who was disillusioned with farm life after early years with a cruel father. He became enamored with cowboy life and ran away from home leaving a teary eyed mother and an angry father. Billy was hired by a nice old rancher who was willing to teach the youngster the necessary cowboy skills and life style, but when the rancher sold his ranch, Billy had to ride down the cowboy trail seeking new employment. He joined a group of cowboys who enjoyed humor and fun, always at Billy's expense. Their respect and support changed as they heard Billy's story, for many of those cowboys came from similar family troubles.

Grass was originally published as a paperback book by the Texas Tech University Press under the title And As I Rode Out on the Morning; a cassette recording of Buck reading his story was also available. This new edition contains a compact disc with poet, song writer, playwright and entertainer Andy Wilkinson telling how Buck's recitation was recorded; it was in 1990 when Buck and his friend Ramblin' Jack Elliot were both heading for Nashville at the same time, so they traveled together. Ramblin' Jack suggested that they go to the home and studio of his friend John Hartford, who like many, many others immediately became friends with Buck. Ramblin' Jack talked Buck into letting Hartford record him, so Hartford recorded Buck (this reviewer can verify that trip, for one night after midnight they called me, and all three talked for a while from Hartford's home). This compact disc has Buck's complete recording with improvements made with the latest digital technology by another of Buck's longtime friends, Eddie Reeves.

Bette Ramsey, Buck's wife and loving companion through the years, wrote the "Introduction " and the "Afterword" as well as the following about the origin of Grass.

"Buck Ramsey's short story 'The Wagon Incident' was written for publication in a magazine. The original story, 'A Beginning,' is the basis for his epic poem Grass. The story is included here for comparison purposes.

Billy Deaver, the leading character in Grass and 'The Wagon Incident,' was inspired by Buck Ramsey's Uncle Ed. As a fourteen-year-old farm boy, Ed Williams ran away from home and joined a cowboy tribe. He remained a cowboy all his life."

The "Foreword" was written by B. Byron Price, and essays under the section "On Buck and His Work" were written by Susan Kouyomjian, Virginia Bennett, Joel Nelson, Andy Wilkinson, Hal Cannon and Teresa Jordan, all close friends of Buck. These essays and J. B. Allen's "Requiem for a Friend" and his poem "Tendrils," which was inspired by Buck, show the influence Buck and his creativity had on others. It was J. B. Allen who, while in the saddle, recited Buck's famous "Anthem" at Buck's funeral; "Anthem" is the "Prologue" to Grass. Cowboy artist and friend Walt LaRue drew many illustrations for the 1993 publication, but only one was used. This edition contains all of Walt's illustrations along with historic photographs and with historic Texas cattle brands that Buck wanted to be included.

For those not acquainted with Buck Ramsey or who have not read or heard his magnificent contributions to our cowboy and national culture, Buck was a genuine Texas cowboy who grew up in the Texas Panhandle among some of the storied Texas ranches and cowboys. He always wanted to live the life of a working cowboy, but as he often explained, in 1962 a "horse tougher" than he ended his life in the saddle. His life as a paraplegic did not end his relationship with the cowboy life he dearly loved; it provided the inspiration, the imagination and the creativity to write, to sing and to contribute lasting images and interpretations of this nation's mythical hero, the American cowboy. Buck's essays, poems, songs and recordings gained national attention and received many awards; as quoted in the award winning compact disc Hittin' the Trail (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings CD 50002), Buck Ramsey was "the spiritual leader of the cowboy poetry movement." Buck passed away 3 January 1998 in his Amarillo, Texas home. His creativity lives on, and his spirit remains with us as stated in "Anthem":

... I was the poem, I was the song.
My heart would beat the world a warning—
Those horsemen now rode all with me,
And we were good, and we were free.

Grass is highly recommended!  It was published by the Texas Tech University Press, PO Box 41027, Lubbock, Texas 79409-1037, telephone 800-832-4042.

                                                                                      Dr. Guy Logsdon, Tulsa, Oklahoma

© 2006, Dr. Guy Logsdon, reprinted with permission 
A version of this review appeared in Rope Burns, September/October 2006.

 

About Dr. Guy Logsdon

Dr. Logsdon is an author, historian and entertainer, a highly regarded authority on Western and cowboy music and poetry and on the works of Woody Guthrie. His book, The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing and Other Songs Cowboys Sing (University of Illinois Press, 1989), is an important reference. Other publications and recordings about Western and cowboy music include Saddle Serenaders (Gibbs Smith, 1994), biographies of musicians accompanied by a CD; and Cowboy Songs (Smithsonian Folkways, 1991). Dr. Logsdon received the Chester A. Reynolds Award from National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2006. The Museum's media release about the award presentation includes additional information about his life and work.

   


Additional Links and Information

  • a feature here at CowboyPoetry.com has selections of Buck Ramsey's poetry, articles, commentary, references, and books and recordings, including information about:

 

  The Nevada Museum of Art and the Western Folklife Center have produced a DVD of the film, Anthem; the prologue to Grass, which is available for $10 plus postage here at the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop.

The impressive film (originally titled Between Grass and Sky) features top poets and reciters Joel Nelson, Jerry Brooks, and Andy Hedges reciting the late Buck Ramsey's "Anthem," the prologue to his master work, Grass. (The film begins with Buck Ramsey's voice.) 

The Nevada Museum of Art originally conceived and commissioned the work, and provided this description:

The poem Grass has impacted generations of cowboy poets throughout the American West. This audiovisual presentation features an original rendition of recitations by three renowned cowboy poets combined with a 1993 recording of Ramsey’s voice. Joel Nelson, a dear friend of Ramsey’s, owns and operates a ranch outside of Alpine, Texas. Andy Hedges, a young cowboy poet and musician, lives and works in Lubbock, Texas. Jerry Brooks, of Sevier, Utah, is one of the most respected reciters of Grass. Together, these poets’ voices pay tribute to the legacy of Buck Ramsey’s words and the universal themes they evoke.

The film was a part of one of the most commented-on sessions at the 2011 Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (read more about that session here in our reports from the gathering).

 

  Buck Ramsey, Hittin' the Trail from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, winner of the 2004 Wrangler Award, a 20CD set, mostly recorded in concert.

  Buck Ramsey's book, And As I Rode Out on the Morning, which was published in 1993 by Texas Tech Press.

Rolling Uphill from Texas and My Home it Was in Texas, Buck Ramsey's Wrangler award-winning recordings.

  Buck Ramsey's poem, "Christmas Waltz," which was printed in a small gift edition book, Christmas Waltz. by Gibbs Smith Publishers in 1996.

  • Read more about Virginia Bennett here at CowboyPoetry.com.
  • The first recording of Buck Ramsey's "Anthem," from Buck Ramsey's Grass, is included on The BAR-D Roundup compilation CD and each annual volume (through Volume 5) includes another chapter from Grass.
  •   Buck Ramsey's Grass, with essays on his life and work is the recipient of the Will Rogers Medallion Award from the Academy of Western Artists.

BuckPortraitWeb.jpg (36314 bytes)
Photo by Scott Braucher

 

 

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