I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)

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"I'm an Old Cow Hand (From the Rio Grande)" is a comic song written by Johnny Mercer for the film Rhythm on the Range and sung by its star, Bing Crosby. The Crosby recording with Jimmy Dorsey & his Orchestra was a hit in 1936, and greatly furthered Mercer's career. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[1]


Philip Furia, writing in his book "Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer" describes how Mercer and his wife were driving across the USA en route to Savannah after having apparently failed to succeed in Hollywood. Mercer was amused by the sight of cowboys, with spurs and ten-gallon hats, driving cars and trucks instead of riding horses. Furia continues: "It was the era of the singing cowboy, and here was life imitating art. In fifteen minutes, writing on the back of an envelope, he worked the image into a song whose satiric underside vented some of Mercer's own bitter frustration with Hollywood:

I'm an old cowhand from the Rio Grande, But my legs ain't bowed and my cheeks ain't tanned.
I'm a cowboy who never saw a cow,
Never roped a steer 'cause I don't know how,
And I sho' ain't fixin' to start in now, Yippy I 0 Ki Ay ...
I'm a ridin' fool who is up to date,
I know ev'ry trail in the Lone Star State,
'Cause I ride the range in a Ford V-Eight. Yippy 10 Ki Ay.

Only Mercer's perfect ear for regional idioms would have come up with a line like "I sho' ain't fixin' to start in now." Cole Porter, at about this same time, would write his own cowboy song, "Don't Fence Me In," but his lyric would employ such erudite phrases as "where the West commences." In the fifteen minutes it took Mercer to write the lyric to "I'm an Old Cowhand," he also wrote a rollicking melody, which sharpened the satire by suggesting the clip-clop of horse hooves. Many people were amazed that someone like Johnny Mercer, who could neither play the piano nor read music, could write a melody for "I'm an Old Cowhand," as well as for "Dream," "Something's Gotta Give," and other successful songs."[2]

The song has also been sung by Roy Rogers (Sons of the Pioneers), Bobby Darin, Tex Ritter, The Mills Brothers, Johnnie Ray, Jack Teagarden, Patsy Montana, Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence, Dan Hicks, and Harry Connick Jr., among others. A notable jazz version by Sonny Rollins leads off his 1957 album Way Out West. Instrumental versions were done by Ray Conniff on his album s Wonderful (1956) and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on their album The Brass are Comin.

In TV and film, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance sang it in an episode of I Love Lucy, and Robert Picardo performs a verse in Innerspace. The Sons of the Pioneers version is heard in Men In Black 3.

The lyrics, about a 20th-century cowboy who has little in common with cowpunchers of old, have been included in some anthologies of light verse.


  1. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Furia, Philip (2003). Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-312-28720-8. 
  • Who Wrote that Song by Dick Jacobs & Harriet Jacobs, published by Writer's Digest Books 1993 (2nd Edition)

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