Running Bear

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For the song by Zion I, see True & Livin'.
Not to be confused with Bear Run.
"Running Bear"
Cover of Running Bear by Johnny Preston (1994 CD album)
Single by Johnny Preston
B-side "My Heart Knows"
Released 1959
Length 2:39
Label Mercury Records[1]
Writer(s) J. P. Richardson[1]
Producer(s) Bill Hall[1]
Johnny Preston singles chronology
"Running Bear"
(1959)
"Cradle of Love"
(1960)
Audio sample
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"Running Bear" is a song written by J. P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper) and sung most famously by Johnny Preston in 1959.[1] Preston first sang the song in 1959 with background vocals by Richardson and George Jones, who did the "Indian chanting" of "uga-uga" during the three verses, as well as the "Indian war cries". It was No. 1 for three weeks in January 1960 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1960.[1] Coincidentally, "Running Bear" was immediately preceded in the Hot 100 No. 1 position by Marty Robbins' "El Paso", another song in which the protagonist dies.

Richardson was a friend of Preston and offered "Running Bear" to him after hearing him perform in a club. Preston recorded the song at the Gold Star Studios in Houston, Texas in 1958. The session's producer was Bill Hall with Preston on vocals and Link Davis on saxophone. Richardson, Hall and Jones performed the song's Indian chants.

Preston was signed to Mercury Records, and "Running Bear" was released in August 1959, seven months after Richardson's death in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.[1]

"Running Bear" was used in the 1994 movie A Simple Twist of Fate, which stars Steve Martin as Michael McCann, a fine furniture maker in rural Virginia, who adopts a little girl named Mathilda. There is a scene in the movie where he plays "Running Bear" on the phonograph / record player, and he and Mathilda are dancing to the song. It occurs about midway through the movie.

Plot[edit]

The song tells the story of Running Bear, a "young Indian brave", and Little White Dove, an "Indian maid". The two are in love but are separated by two factors:

  • Their tribes' hatred of each other: they hail from tribes that are at war with each other. ("Their tribes fought with each other / So their love could never be.")
  • A raging river: this is a physical separation that also serves as a metaphor for their cultural separation.

The two, desiring to be together despite their obstacles and the risks of navigating the river, dive into the raging river to unite. After sharing a passionate kiss, they are pulled down by the swift current and drown. The lyrics describe their fate: "Now they'll always be together / In their happy hunting ground."

Cover versions[edit]

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sonny James enjoyed an unprecedented streak of success with his commercially released singles, many of them covers of previous pop hits. One of his 16 consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart was a cover version of "Running Bear." Released in April 1969, James' topped the Hot Country Singles chart in mid-June and spent three weeks at No. 1. The song soon became one of James' most popular recordings of his career.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys did this song frequently. It is on their album Time Changes Everything and many greatest hits compilations.

The Guess Who included the song on their 1972 album Rockin', although the songwriting credit is given to Clarence "Curly" Herdman, a country & bluegrass fiddler.

Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass recorded a toe-tapping version of the song, complete with the standard Nashville Brass banjo-and-steel solo, for their 1975 album Dream Country.

Jim Stallings also performed a cover of Running Bear on his 1969 album entitled Heya!

Mud recorded the song on their album mud rock which reached #8 in the UK charts

In 2012 Ray Stevens covered the song on his 9-CD box set, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music.

Northern Irish punk band, Stiff Little Fingers did a live cover of this, which ended up on their album All the Best and later on the re-issue of their live album, Hanx!.

A German version titled Brauner Bär und Weiße Taube was performed by Gus Backus.

The song was occasionally part of Led Zeppelin's live repertoire in the early 1970s, during rock medleys contained within long versions of "Whole Lotta Love".[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 49. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  2. ^ "Led Zeppelin – Amsterdam 1972 (MMachine MM-00-03/04)". Collectors Music Reviews. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  • Dixon, Barry. "Johnny Preston". The Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2007-04-13. 
Preceded by
"El Paso" by Marty Robbins
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Johnny Preston version)
January 12, 1960 – February 1, 1960 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning
Preceded by
"Poor Me " by Adam Faith
UK number-one single (Johnny Preston version)
17 March 1960 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"My Old Man's a Dustman" by Lonnie Donegan
Preceded by
"Singing My Song" by Tammy Wynette
Billboard Hot Country Singles number-one single (Sonny James version)
June 14, 1969 – June 28, 1969
Succeeded by
"Statue of a Fool" by Jack Greene
Preceded by
"Rings of Gold" by Dottie West and Don Gibson
RPM Country Tracks number-one single (Sonny James version)
June 14, 1969
Succeeded by
"The Days of Sand and Shovels" by Waylon Jennings