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Rock to country: Cowboy images ride in and out of music


LOS ANGELES -- There's country and there's western. And to those in the know, the two rarely meet.

Country music, according to songwriter-music publisher Cliffie Stone, is concerned with such earthy subjects as broken hearts, dancing, drinking, cheating and gambling.

Western or cowboy songs, on the other hand, deal with "the beauty of nature and the outdoors, life on the ranch, the rodeos," he said.

"Look at songs like 'Cool Water' or 'Tumbling Tumbleweed,' " Mr. Stone, 75, said. "They're full of images of life on the open range. Cowboys were heroes, and their stories were told in songs."

Mr. Stone, who is credited with discovering country crooner Tennessee Ernie Ford in the '40s, produced hits for Merle Travis and others.

He recently published a songwriting manual, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Songwriting but Didn't Know Who to Ask" (Showdown Enterprises; $16.95).

Ray Benson, leader of Asleep at the Wheel, a seven-piece western-swing band, said cowboy imagery crops up in songs from a variety of genres.

"In every music form, from rock 'n' roll to country, people write songs about the cowboy," Mr. Benson said.

Mr. Benson described the traditional cowboy song as having three-part harmonies, a strumming guitar and a loping beat.

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