Mighty Rider...the story
I don't believe in coincidence. I believe there is a Grand Plan that we cannot begin to understand. At least not in the remarkably brief time we have on this earth. I believe that when things, people or events so outwardly unrelated become inexorably interwoven into one magical moment that there is nothing accidental about it. And everything about it is humbling. Such was the case in 2006 with the unlikely confluence of a 1939 recording in the Library of Congress, the passing of a lost childhood friend, and a 10 year old, unfinished cowboy song.
The Cowboy Song:
The initial inspiration for “The Black Cowboys’ Song” came in the mid 90’s when I had neither the time nor the ability to actually write it. I discovered that cowboy songs didn’t all have to sound like “Happy Trails”. Some even deserved the same respect and thorough research of a historical novel. With this fresh perspective I walked the bricks of the Fort Worth Stockyards as I had hundreds of times while growing up. But this particular time I stopped at the statue of world famous black cowboy, rodeo star and "inventor" of bulldogging, Bill Pickett. And for the first time, I read. Bulldogging, or "steer wrestling", is the only professional sport whose genesis can be traced to one individual; Bill Pickett, and yet he is not a household name. Not even in many rodeo family homes. I knew that there were surely other black cowboys whose stories and whose contributions to cowboying, both inside and outside of the rodeo arena, remained largely untold. Inspired by Pickett’s story, by the intrigue of stories I didn’t yet know and by my determination to “get it right”, I decided I would not write a single word until I thoroughly researched the historical contributions of Pickett and other black cowboys in the trail drive era. I was confident that the research itself would provide plenty of lyrics for "The Black Cowboys’ Song". I was right.
The research did indeed provide ample lyrical inspiration and the song was “finished” in a week or so. But something was missing. I worked with different melodies, different chords, progressions and tempos. Ultimately, something was still missing. The song did not seem to hold up to the original idea, the meticulous research, the stories of Nat Love, 80 John Wallace and countless others I discovered in my research. Nor did it do justice to the lyrics I had written. I still had hopes that something would spark and the song would not become just another unfinished song. I was stuck and I was disappointed but I moved on.
Over the next decade, I attempted to resurrect the song several times but to no avail. Believing in the song wasn’t enough. It needed something I just could not figure out. I finally had to admit that, even after all those years, it still was not finished and I wasn’t sure if it ever would be. Were it not for the untimely passing of one of my closest childhood friends and the bittersweet, unexplainable series of events that followed, "The Black Cowboys’ Song" would have remained just another unfinished song.
Marcus Henry Truvillion was my friend. And his friendship was in itself an unlikely, humbling blessing. Mark was 6’7” and black. I was…well…I was not. Not surprisingly, I’m still not! Though I could lie my way up to 5’7” in boots, no amount of lying could hide our physical differences; a full foot in height and several shades in tan. We were quite an odd couple but for many of those crucial adolescent years of junior high and high school, we were inseparable. I know it is cliché, but Mark was a gentle giant with a kind, selfless heart. I could write for hours about Mark and about our friendship during those years. Which makes it all the more regretful that I let such a special friendship fade away in the years after high school. As if it meant nothing. When in fact, Mark was the most dependable, most consistent person in my life for those years.
I learned of Mark’s passing some time in 2006, well after the fact. Over 25 years had disappeared and I was ashamed that I knew so little about someone who meant so much to me at such a formative time in my life. Not that I could fix it or change a thing, but I wanted to know him again. I hoped the internet could provide some answers so I searched for “Mark Truvillion” and “Marcus Henry Truvillion“ and every variation thereof. Nothing. No obituary. Nothing. And then, in the middle of all that disheartening nothing, I found something. Something so unexpected that to try and explain is pointless.
While searching for my friend, I truly believe he found me.
The 1939 Recording:
I don’t even recall how I found it. But at some point during my futile search for Marcus Henry Truvillion, I stumbled across a grainy, 1939 recording in the Library of Congress. I clicked on the song and this voice, this honest real voice began to sing “Ride on mighty rider, you got the reins in your hands…”. My mind went straight to the 10 year old song I had not thought about in years; the unfinished “Black Cowboys’ Song”.
Like a gift, this old folk song, this real black cowboy song, married perfectly with the song I had so much hope for and had nearly forgotten. The old song’s refrain led me straight to a melody that worked with everything I had already written and straight to a new chorus; “He sang ‘Ride on Mighty Rider…’”. Of course! That is what the black cowboys sang! I opened up the unfinished song. I took out words, verses, pieces of my heart and my hard work that I thought untouchable, and replaced them with words that were meant to be there. I finished it. I picked up the guitar and played it. Over and over. And finally…it felt finished. I felt right.
I said it was like a gift. It was a gift. The voice on that 1939 recording is Henry Truvillion. My friend’s grandfather.
The Grand Plan:
Mark was not a cowboy. When we were friends, he had no way of knowing what cowboying would mean to me now, decades later. But it is just like him to look down and say “Hey, I thought you might like this.“
As I said at the beginning, who am I to understand? I don’t need to and I don’t believe I am meant to. Nor is it for me to decide whether the song does justice to the story. I hope it does. But I am content in knowing that it doesn’t really matter. The song is just one tiny part in one grand, gloriously incomprehensible plan. And I am just thankful to play my part. And I am thankful to have known Mark, my friend, my co-writer.