After listening to “Troubadour” by George Strait and hearing Jesse James’ name I was curious to how many country songs talk about him in their lyrics and why.
Honestly, before I went into further research about him, I assumed that he was an admired country music artist when Old Time Country or Honky Tonk was popular. And now I smirk every time I think about that presumption.
George Strait even compares himself to Jesse James. Some country artists that sang about him include Johnny Cash (The Ballad of Jesse James) and Woody Guthrie (Jesse James).
After listening to few songs I start to see a pattern to Jesse’s story. He was known for being the fastest gunslinger in the west, bank/coach robber, outlaw, and a murderer.
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After hearing those songs I wanted to see whether the stories had any truth to them. I got to find some information about his story. Parts of the stories are truth but some of them were just rumors and myths.
Jesse James was born on September 5, 1847, in Kearney, Missouri. James and his brother Frank served for the Confederate Army before embarking on criminal careers in the Old West. The James brothers made a name for themselves as bank and train robbers, leading the James-Younger gang. Gang member Robert Ford killed Jesse James in 1882, after which James became a legend of the Old West.
Some folks call him as the American version of Robin Hood. However, there is no evidence that he and his gang shared any loot to the poor from their robberies.
Johnny Cash gave a clear narration of Jesse Jame’s life in his song, “Ballad of Jesse James”.
Jessie James is an outlaw inspiration
As I had said previously a lot of older country songs talk about Jesse James and I believe for one is because he was such legendary southern outlaw so it would have been stories that most of those country singers would have heard about as a child, which we all know, or at least I do, and who wouldn’t have wanted to be an outlaw like Jesse James? I believe it inspired their wild side and the song was a way for them to escape reality and show that they were just like him and they could be free and wild-spirited.
So in conclusion I think that Jesse James plays a big role in older country for the simple reason his stories were told by so many songs and still to this day he is talked about in songs, movies, even a music artist’s stage name is Jessie James so that their fans can resonate them with Jesse’s wild side.
Time and time again you will hear Jesse James story being told through country songs because he is what you would have called the real southerner.