Song Series – “The Rodeo Song” – Garry Lee and the Showdown/Gaye Delorme

I decided to give my readers a temporary break from my legendary long-windedness and pay homage to one of Canada’s greatest contributions to music, the arts and . . . mental health.

Yes, I said mental health. Hear me out. Or better yet, hear the record. I’m only asking for two minutes of your precious time.

Yes! Two teeny-weeny minutes! Two minutes that made HISTORY! Two minutes that became a WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON! Two minutes that WILL SET YOU BACK $119.99 if you want an original copy of the vinyl 45! We’re talking VALUABLE COLLECTOR’S ITEM here, people!

While we can all thank Canada for giving the world Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Schitt’s Creek and William Shatner, I stand firm in the belief that immersing yourself completely in the thrilling experience of “The Rodeo Song” will transport you to a long-lasting state of sheer ecstasy! Not even Captain Kirk could pull that off! He could only have Scotty transport you to a place or another dimension! No one on the original Star Trek was ever transported to a state of ecstasy! That’s TWO Canadian actors who couldn’t pull off such a feat!

Ah! I see you view my claim with extreme skepticism. Perhaps you heard that the song takes place in an environment of brutal cold measured at -40º F/C and you’re wondering how such a song could have attracted any listeners outside of Siberians, Greenlanders and Antarctic penguins. When I tell you the song is about a man going to a rodeo, you may ask yourself, “Who in the hell would stage a rodeo in that kind of weather? And who in the hell is dumb enough to go?”

I will address your questions in due course, but all I want you to do right now is take those two precious minutes and listen to “The Rodeo Song.” Just click the link and follow the lyrics below. I’ll be here when you get back

LISTEN TO “THE RODEO SONG” BY GARRY LEE AND SHOWDOWN ON YOUTUBE

THE RODEO SONG
(Gaye Delorme)

Well it’s forty below
And I don’t give a fuck
Got a heater in my truck
And I’m off to the rodeo

It’s an allemande left
And allemande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fuckin’ jerk
Get on my nerves

Well here comes Johnny
With his pecker in his hand
He’s a one-ball man
And he’s off to the rodeo

It’s an allemande left
And allemande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fuckin’ jerk
Get on my nerves

Well it’s forty below
And I ain’t got a truck
And I don’t give a BLEEP
‘Cause I’m off to the rodeo

It’s an allemande left
And allemande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fuckin’ jerk
Get on my nerves

Well here comes Johnny
With his pecker in his hand
He’s a one-ball man
And he’s off to the rodeo

It’s an allemande left
And allemande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fuckin’ jerk
Get on my nerves

There! Feel better? I’ll explain why you feel better, too!

*****

How many Canadians does it take to create an ecstasy transporter? As it turns out, the answer is five. One is Gaye Delorme who composed the song; the other four are the members of Garry Lee and Showdown (or just plain Showdown) who had the great good fortune to record the song for their album Welcome to the Rodeo, released in 1982.

Gaye Delorme was a fascinating guy. He taught himself how to play guitar at the age of 14 during a stint in reform school. He eventually developed his skills to encompass a wide range of guitar styles, including flamenco, classical and jazz (à la Django). According to his mini-bio at canadianbands.com, Delorme “became one of the most sought after studio musicians, live guitarists, and producer/writers.” He worked with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (performing one of my favorite pieces, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez), Stanley Clarke and Cheech and Chong (coming up with the famous guitar riff for “Earache My Eye”).

Showdown lead singer and fiddler Garry Lee stumbled upon Delorme quite by accident, according to Scott Cruickshank’s 2018 interview with the band members in the Calgary Herald: “On a cold winter weekend in 1979, Showdown was playing a hotel in Drayton Valley, Alta. Lee woke up Saturday and wandered across the street to another bar where, the previous night, he’d forgotten his coat. He saw someone with a guitar setting up for an afternoon jam, so he grabbed a coffee and settled in.” He would soon be joined by a fellow bandmate, Charles Holley.

Lee: There was just me and another guy in the bar and he said three or four times (to the musician), “Hey, buddy, do that song.” And he finally did it and what he did was “The Rodeo Song.”

Holley: We put a tape recorder under the table and taped it. We went back to our room and listened to it again and thought, We could do this. So I got the acoustic out and Garry got the fiddle out and he started sawing away. We said, “We’ll just make this sort of a hoedown.” We created a rough arrangement.

They received permission from Delorme to record the song—-and a warning: “You may not want to put that on an album. Your record-buying public is your relatives.” However, the overwhelmingly positive response the band received when performing the song led them to throw caution to the wind and “The Rodeo Song” became the closing track on Welcome to the Rodeo (and the lead single).

Though banned by various radio stations and government entities, “The Rodeo Song” became a worldwide under-the-radar hit. A nasty spat over royalties led to the band’s demise a year or so after the release, but that didn’t end the universal fascination with “The Rodeo Song.” From the Herald:

Everyone went their separate ways, but Lee hired studio musicians to slap together another Showdown album, Loaded Loose and Rowdy. (“I try to forget about that one.”) “The Rodeo Song,” on the other hand, had lasting appeal.

Lee: I have students who are teenagers. Sometimes they come to school and smile at me and say, “Guess what my grandpa played for me?” Or, “Guess what my dad played for me? Is that really you?”

LaRocque (guitarist): A guy came up to me (in the late-1990s after a gig in Munich, Germany) and said, “You were in das band,” and he whips out the album for me to sign. That happened all over the place.

Holley: You could hear it in a disco in Adelaide or you could hear it somewhere in Thailand. It’s amazing. It’s a worldwide hit. But it didn’t turn out like worldwide hits usually turn out. I mean, it’s not “She Loves You.”

McLellan (drummer): Last week, some of my high-school students were singing it. They didn’t even know I was the drummer.

*****

I should mention that Welcome to the Rodeo is a pretty good country album, but it’s also clear that the band was on fire when they recorded “The Rodeo Song.” The guitar duets are simply outstanding, Garry Lee plays one mean fiddle and his beautifully clipped vocal gives the impression that he’s driving that truck right now, swerving (hence the “allemande left and allemande right”) around the idiots blocking his way to the rodeo. I can’t explain why the guy is headed for the rodeo in the dead of winter since the Calgary Stampede Rodeo is held outdoors in the summer, but really, who gives a fuck about such irrelevant details?

What I can explain is why the song is absolutely captivating and why I mention it in the context of mental health. As a woman who uses the word “fuck” frequently and with gusto, I think I’m qualified to weigh in on the subject.

There’s no doubt that part of the appeal is that many folks like to indulge in naughtiness. We have much more in common with Eve than we do with Adam. We all know that various temptations come with risks attached, but we often ignore those risks because the reward is usually pretty satisfying (at least in the short run). Whether it’s ice cream or cigarettes or double pepperoni pizza (my favorite), we all like to indulge in things that are bad for us. “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” is an irresistible invitation to experience the delights of sin.

We also love to defy the authorities whenever it won’t get us tossed into the klink. What was true for Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” was true for “The Rodeo Song”—attempting to ban any form of art only increases its appeal. Listening to a banned song is a way of asserting our independence from those who wish to control us—a way to say, “fuck you” to those who would deprive us of the right to judge for ourselves.

Another aspect of “The Rodeo Song” that many of us can relate to is that both the lyrics and Garry Lee’s vocal perfectly capture our feelings and our go-to behavior when we encounter dumb-shit drivers. Whether it’s “fuckin’ jerk” or “fuckin’ moron” or “goddamn bitch is looking at her fucking phone,” we often resort to swear words when drivers cut us off, hog the road or drive under the speed limit in the passing lane. Since the idiot in question can’t possibly hear us, in-the-car cussing has no practical purpose beyond helping to expel some of our tension. In this case, swearing to high heaven is a much healthier response to an asshole motorist than road rage violence.

All of which leads us to the subject of mental health, and what moved “The Rodeo Song” up in the queue was an article I stumbled upon in the Washington Post (thanks to another free subscription from Apple—this time Apple News): “How I Learned that Swearing Can Be Good for the Soul.” The article was written by one Elizabeth Jameson who . . . well, I’ll let Elizabeth handle the introductions:

When I still had the use of my hands, I used to load up my paintbrush and hurl a glob of paint against my studio wall, as a way of releasing frustrations. I didn’t ask permission. I just did it.

When I lost the use of my hands — not to mention the rest of my body — because of the progression of multiple sclerosis, even that release was gone. Then one day, after I’d gone to work out at a rehabilitation center for people with spinal cord injuries, and was sitting and waiting for my caregiver to get the car, I stumbled upon another welcome release. One I could use even in my quadriplegic body: swearing.

Living with multiple sclerosis has meant that my life is perpetually governed and controlled by people who make decisions on my behalf. I desperately need these people, and I deeply appreciate them. But it’s still sometimes frustrating that I need someone else to do just about anything . . .

It has taken a long time, but I have found ways to use my voice beyond everyday requests and niceties: cursing with abandon.

Some time ago, I was waiting for my ride at the rehabilitation center. A man I had seen a few times before rolled up in his wheelchair to wait alongside me. He genially asked my name, and I told him.

“Hi — I’m Ted,” he said. Then, with a huge grin, he added, “I don’t mean to offend you, but f— you, Elizabeth!”

To someone else it might have been unnerving. But the way Ted was smiling at me, it seemed less like an insult than an invitation — to play, perhaps? To be defiant? To not have to be on my best behavior, for once?

“Well, f— you too, Ted!” I beamed.

It was a deliverance from my overly controlled life. It was freedom, a fresh breath of air.

Later in the article, Elizabeth talks about her experience with a friend diagnosed with terminal cancer:

Phil’s transformation from the last time I had seen him was shocking: He was pale and emaciated, with hollow cheeks and a gaping mouth that wouldn’t close. I had been in denial of his terminal cancer for a long time, but his appearance that day made me face reality.

As Phil sat in his chair, I couldn’t help but stare. I was trying not to cry when I told him, “I don’t want you to die.”

He rolled his eyes at me, annoyed, and said, “I’m not dying right now, I’m living!”

Phil was a man who enjoyed living. He enjoyed it so much, he refused to wait for a funeral he couldn’t attend — his funeral — and instead threw himself a huge party before his cremation. “Roast me before they toast me,” he called it.

He was sick of people saying, “Oh Phil, I’m so sorry that you have cancer.” That kind of thing really bored and annoyed him. He didn’t want to be talked to that way. “Talk to me like that when I’m dead,” he would say.

But I, too, had a way I wanted to be talked to. I wanted a deep connection with my dear friend. I wanted Phil to discuss his feelings about approaching death. I had fantasized that we would have a profound conversation about the meaning of life, but Phil was not interested in my expectations. His version of living involved humor, not gravitas.

I was desperate to talk about big things, but he wouldn’t budge. Without tears or pity, I blurted out, “Okay, well, f— you, Phil!”

A giant smile transformed his face, and he exploded into laughter. “Thank you for saying that!” He seemed deeply relieved. “F— you too.”

Those words, both funny and intimate, satisfied both of us. Phil was still in the land of the living, his spirit and personality whole and present. If he had had the energy, I believe we would have volleyed cuss words back and forth for some time.

Through the simple act of swearing we celebrated life by breaking the rules of how one should act, especially when sick and preparing to die. We had an understanding.

Science sides with Elizabeth . . . as do many others whose bodies have betrayed them:

A number of studies have shown that swearing in stressful circumstances can have positive physiological effects, such as increased tolerance to pain and improved stamina. I wonder now whether trading profanities could be used more widely and with therapeutic intention within the disabled community, and even beyond.

I’ve begun asking friends — particularly those living with disease or disability — what they think of embracing this kind of uncensored expression. While some can’t relate, others understand intuitively what it’s taken me decades of living with M.S. to fully articulate: that words can pierce the suffocating social pressure, that they can blunt the pains of a difficult daily existence. For me, they are something to help ease my grief over a body that is failing me.

I’ve often talked about the healing properties of music, and I think everyone knows that “laughter is the best medicine.” I don’t know what Gaye Delorme had in mind when he wrote “The Rodeo Song,” though I doubt he did so for therapeutic purposes. Whatever his motivation, Delorme created a therapeutic booster of a song that makes me laugh and encourages me to feel free enough to do something as crazy as driving a big old pickup truck on icy roads in sub-zero weather because I’m going to get to that fucking rodeo no matter how many fucking dummies stand in my way.

I think the enduring popularity of “The Rodeo Song” is that it’s essentially a song that celebrates individual freedom—the freedom to take risks, the freedom to have fun, the freedom to say “screw social norms,” the freedom to let it the fuck out and have one helluva good fucking time.

 

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