“Streets of Laredo” takes its roots from an English folk song and dates back to the late 18th century. The song is also popularly called as “Cowboy’s Lament“. It is a well-known American cowboy ballad which has been adapted, and performed many times and with many variations.
The title of the song refers to the city of Laredo, the country seat of Webb County in Texas. “Streets of Laredo” talks about a dying cowboy revealing the story of his life to another cowboy until he dies.
The song is one of the most notable and sung cowboy ballads. In fact, members of the Western Writers of America voted it as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.
The exact derivation of the song was unsure. Some sources say that it was derived from the English folk song “The Unfortunate Rake” while others suggest that it was actually an Irish folk song of the same title. However, sources agree that the song dated back to the 18th century. Nevertheless, “Streets of Laredo” has become a folk music standard. It is popularly performed and recorded until the recent era.
On the other hand, Frank Maynard, an old-time cowboy from Colorado, took authorship and ownership of the revised edition which was entitled Cowboy’s Lament. Pieces of evidence were widely presented and his story was revealed by University of Illinois Journalism professor Elmo Scott Watson.
Furthermore, the tune was officially published and was included in a compilation album of the American teacher, musicologist and folklorist John Lomax in 1910. The compilation was then named Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads.
As mentioned, “Streets of Laredo” has been popularly performed, recorded, and adapted. Many artists have already covered and rendered their version of the song. The most famous and notable versions are that of Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Chet Akins, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Marty Robbins.
In this article, Marty Robbins‘ version is featured. Undeniably, his version is one of the best (if not the best). He sang the song just right. He exuded the emotion and the feeling that the song asks for. Listen to his version of the song below.
Here is a part of the lyrics of the American cowboy ballad:
As I walked out in the streets of Laredo
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy, all wrapped in white linen
All wrapped in white linen and cold as the clay.
“I see by your outfit, that you are a cowboy.”
These words he did say as I slowly passed by.
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story,
For I’m shot in the chest, and today I must die.”
“‘Oh once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
‘Oh once in the saddle I used to go gay.
First down to Rosie’s, and then to the card-house,
Got shot through the body, and now here I lay.”
“Oh, beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
And play the dead march as you carry me along;
Take me to the green valley, there lay the sod o’er me,
For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.
Listen to Marty Robbins’ version of this famous classic song “Streets of Laredo.”
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Marty Robbins, Streets of Laredo