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Cover of Running Bear by Johnny Preston (1994 CD album)
|Single by Johnny Preston|
|B-side||"My Heart Knows"|
|Format||45 rpm record|
|Songwriter(s)||J. P. Richardson|
|Johnny Preston singles chronology|
"Running Bear" is a song written by Jiles Perry Richardson (a.k.a. The Big Bopper) and sung most famously by Johnny Preston in 1959. The 1959 recording featured background vocals by Richardson and George Jones and the session's producer Bill Hall, who provided the "Indian chanting" of "uga-uga" during the three verses, as well as the "Indian war cries" at the start and end of the record. 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. 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. Billboard ranked "Running Bear" as the No. 4 song of 1960.
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 saxophone was played by Link Davis.
"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 about midway through the movie where he plays "Running Bear" on the record player, and he and Mathilda are dancing to the song. The song, performed by Ray Gelato, also features in the London night-club scene in the film Scandal, based on the Profumo affair.
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: their respective tribes are at war. ("Their tribes fought with each other / So their love could never be.")
- A raging river: a physical separation but also as a metaphor for their cultural separation.
The two, longing to be together, despite the obstacles and the risks posed by 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."
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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 was one of James' most popular recordings of his career.
Jim Stallings recorded a version of the song on his 1969 album titled Heya!
Mud recorded the song on their 1974 debut album Mud Rock which reached #8 in the UK charts.
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.
In 2012 Ray Stevens covered the song on his 9-CD box set, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music.
The song is a staple of Williams and Ree's live set and is one of the duo's most popular songs. Ree performs the lead vocals while Williams provides Indian chants and humorous alternatives, such as lyrics from Pump Up the Jam and Ice Ice Baby.
- 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.
- Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1960
- on YouTube
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- on YouTube
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 172.
- The Youngbloods, "Running Bear" single release Retrieved May 18, 2015
- The Youngbloods, High on a Ridge Top Retrieved May 18, 2015
- "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.