Illinois native SMILEY BURNETTE (1911-1967) had never set foot in the West when he wrote his first cowboy song, "The Round-up in Cheyenne," for his friend Gene Autry to record in 1934. Some months later, deeply moved while driving through Arizona and New Mexico en route to Los Angeles , and seeing the splendor of the American West first-hand, Smiley wrote "Ridin' Down the Canyon" on the back of a magazine and sold it to Gene for five dollars.
Smiley, who became the first musical side-kick in Western movies, composed nearly all of the songs for the early Gene Autry movies. These include "Wagon Train" ( from THE SINGING VAGABOND), "The Old Covered Wagon" and "Someday in Wyoming" (from IN OLD SANTA FE), the moving "End of the Trail" (from THE SAGEBRUSH TROUBADOR), "Let's Go Roaming Around the Range" (from THE OLD BARN DANCE) and "Hold on, Little Dogies, Hold on" (from MELODY TRAIL). Other outstanding Smiley Burnette compositions include "On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar" (which was Jimmy Wakely's theme song in the 1940s), "Fetch Me Down My Trusty .45," "Ridin' All Day," "It's Indian Summer" and "I'll Go Ridin' Down that Texas Trail."
By the time the popularity polls indicated that Smiley Burnette had become one of the highest rated cowboy film stars in the Golden Era of the B-Western film, he was in such demand for his comedy as a sidekick to Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Sunset Carson and Charles Starrett (the Durango Kid), he no longer had the time needed to devote to composing. Many people tended to forget about his musical abilities, although he continued to play dozens of musical instruments on screen, on radio and in personal appearances. Nevertheless, his contribution to western music is unquestionable. One WMA historian commented recently, "Smiley would deserve election to the Hall of Fame on the merits of 'Ridin' Down the Canyon,' alone." Of course, he did much more. As Pee Wee King said in a 1982 interview, "Smiley had the spirit of the West in him. That came out in the wonderful western music he wrote." by 0. J. Sikes
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