Running Bear

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"Running Bear"
Running Bear Johnny Preston single cover.JPG
Sleeve of Running Bear by Johnny Preston (1960 UK pressing)
Single by Johnny Preston
B-side"My Heart Knows"
ReleasedJune 1959
Songwriter(s)J. P. Richardson[1]
Producer(s)Bill Hall[1]
Johnny Preston singles chronology
"Running Bear"
"Cradle of Love"
Audio sample

"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.[1] The 1959 recording featured background vocals by Richardson, 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 and New Zealand[2] 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. Billboard ranked "Running Bear" as the No. 4 song of 1960.[3]

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.

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 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 appears on the soundtrack of 1975's Crazy Mama, and, as performed by Ray Gelato, is featured 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."

Chart performance[edit]

All-time charts[edit]

Chart (1958-2018) Position
US Billboard Hot 100[4] 271

Cover versions[edit]

A German version titled Brauner Bär und Weiße Taube ("Brown Bear and White Dove") was recorded as a single by Gus Backus in 1960.[5][6]

In 1960, the Dutch group Het Cocktail Trio recorded a version of the song called Grote Beer ('Great Bear', but also 'Ursa Maior') about an Indian who travels in space.[7]

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.[8] 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!

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

The Youngbloods released a version of the song as a single in 1972[9] and was featured on their album High on a Ridge Top.[10]

Tom Jones recorded a funk version of the song on his 1973 album The Body and Soul of Tom Jones.

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.

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".[11]

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!.

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.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys frequently performed the song and it appears their album Time Changes Everything, and on many greatest hits compilations.


  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. ^ "flavour of new zealand - Playdate charts". Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  3. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1960
  4. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary Interactive Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  5. ^ Gus Backus - Brauner Bär und weiße Taube on YouTube
  6. ^ "Gus Backus - Brauner Bär Und Weiße Taube / Blue Boy (Vinyl)". Retrieved 2016-12-23.
  7. ^ Het Cocktail Trio - Grote Beer on YouTube
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 172.
  9. ^ The Youngbloods, "Running Bear" single release Retrieved May 18, 2015
  10. ^ The Youngbloods, High on a Ridge Top Retrieved May 18, 2015
  11. ^ "Led Zeppelin – Amsterdam 1972 (MMachine MM-00-03/04)". Collectors Music Reviews. Retrieved 2014-04-04.

External links[edit]

  • Dixon, Barry. "Johnny Preston". The Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2007-04-13.