Gene Autry, perhaps the greatest singing cowboy of all time, is famous for his successful career on the silver screen. In addition to that, he’s also a big fixture in the country music world. In fact, he managed to release more than 600 recordings in the course of his career – including our favorite, “Ghost Riders In The Sky.”
The Story Behind The Greatest Western Song Of All Time
Written by Stan Jones, “Ghost Riders In The Sky” tells the story of a cowboy who has a vision of damned cowboys’ spirits chasing after a red-eyed, steel-hooved cattle thundering across the sky. One came with a warning, telling him that if he doesn’t change his ways, he’s doomed to one day join the damned cowboys trying to “catch the Devil’s herd” for all eternity.
According to Jones, the inspiration behind this well-written ballad came from a story he had been told when he was 12 years old. An old Native American recounted to him how Native Americans – most likely the Apache – believed that when souls depart their physical bodies, they live as spirits in the sky, resembling ghost riders.
Jones then recorded “Ghost Riders In The Sky” in 1949, and several artists followed – including Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash, Vaughn Monroe, and of course Gene Autry. The cautionary ballad became a cowboy standard that it was chosen as the greatest Western song of all time by the members of the Western Writers of America.
It also became the basis for Autry’s 1949 Western film, Riders in the Sky – which he co-produced himself and was directed by British film director John English. It starred Steve Darrell, a rancher accused of murdering a gambler, and Autry, as the man trying to clear his name.
The movie perfectly tells the story behind the song – but the best part of the film was absolutely when Autry sang “Ghost Riders In The Sky!” Anyway, you can watch one of Autry’s performances of the song in the video below.