In a Large and Lonesome Land Commentary

In a Large and Lonesome Land is a CD of western songs recorded by the great W.C. Jameson. I wrote the lyrics to all the selections on this CD, and WCJ brought them to life as songs. This project evolved over a period of several years and materialized as a CD in November of 2018.

            I had written traditional poems and ballads for many years, beginning in grade school and continuing through my college years. When my brother David and I were at UC Santa Barbara and UCLA respectively, we used to write ballads for our mutual amusement and send them back and forth. We called ourselves Deux Jongleurs, and we were incorrigible. When I was in graduate school, I wrote the first piece to which I could hear music. It was about a female dog and three males, but the tune came from a cowboy ballad I had running through my head. I wrote another entitled “You Are the Peal of My Mountain Oyster,” and I included it in a short story (“Junior’s Family”) that not only found publication but won an award in1989.

            By the time I was establishing a presence as a writer of western novels, I was also incorporating song excerpts in some of the scenes. Some of the passages came from traditional songs, while others came from my own hand. The first selection of my own consisted of four stanzas about a flaxen-haired maiden from Sweden, which I wrote as a response to a suggestion from W. Michael Gear, another long-time writer friend. A cowboy in Wild Rose of Ruby Canyon (1997) sings the verses at a roundup camp. Several years later, in 2008, the same cowboy delivers a longer version, now entitled “Thorns on the Rose,” in my novel Trouble at the Redstone. That ballad would go on to become the title poem for my collection of western poems, and it would appear as a spoken poem on In a Large and Lonesome Land.

            In the meanwhile, I wrote other ballads, some in the comical style that my brother David and I practiced, and some in a more pensive style. I included these pieces in such works as Adventures of the Ramrod Rider (1999) and For the Norden Boys (2002). At about this same time, I was beginning to associate with some of the musicians who attended Western Writers of America events—notable Mike Blakely, Jon Chandler, and W.C. Jameson. For three years, we worked together at the Writing the West conference at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. In this camaraderie, I dared to tell my friends that I wrote song lyrics and was unsure what to do about trying to find a way to have them set to music. All three of them were very encouraging. I sent them lyrics, they responded with comments, and so we progressed. Then one day when we were together again in Gunnison, in a kind of open session for presenters and students, Mike Blakely and Jon Chandler put a song of mine, “Nebraska Girl,” to music. It was one of the most magical moments I have ever known.

            Of my three musician friends, W.C. Jameson had the style that was closest to the kind of material I was writing, and he also had a little more interest in working with me. We are all busy with our multi-faceted professional lives, and W.C. Jameson is as busy as anyone I know, so I cannot express my gratitude well enough for the time and attention he was able to share.

            It didn’t happen all at once. As he and I corresponded back and forth in 2002 and 2003, he sent me a cassette with three songs on it. When we met at the convention, we sat down at a piano, and we worked out another melody. By 2007, I secured an artist development grant from the Wyoming Arts Council (for which my many thanks), which made it possible for W.C. and his wife, Laurie (also a pal from the Gunnison days), to come up to Wyoming and spend a week at our ranchito. They stayed in their fifth wheel, and in the evenings when I was home from work, we would collaborate on songs and enjoy the great Mexican food that my wife, Rocío, prepared. By the end of this memorable week, we had a demo CD of eight songs.

            Then came a period of several years in which W.C. and I would write back and forth and try to find time to move to the next stage. I worked at writing a few more songs (we wanted about twelve, and I needed a few more than that so we would have a selection), and W.C. tried to find some time. Years passed, and I began to feel a need to approach other artists. I got so far as to have one artist listen to the demo and give me further encouragement, but things were not going any faster than before.

            Then one day, out of the blue, I received an e-mail letter from W.C. Jameson, and he said he thought he might be able to do this project along with another he had in mind. Within a few months, we were able to meet again. In the meanwhile, I sent him more lyrics, and we haggled on a time when we both had an open spot in our work schedules. Then in May of 2017, I went to Texas. W.C. and Laurie picked me up at the airport in Austin, and we went to Llano, where they live. Over the next few days, W.C. and I worked on songs. He was also a superb host, taking me here and there to sample local restaurant fare and also driving me to Luchenbach, Texas, so that I could saturate my soul with that locale.

            Over the stretch of about a year, W.C. recorded the songs in conjunction with the other project he was working on. He also put me in contact with a graphics artist. I was able to find some art work on my own, and I learned a little about producing a CD package and the CD itself. In November of 2018, we had a CD to set before the world. We received many nice comments from friends, relative, and DJ’s, and the CD also received nice reviews in professional magazines. A dream that I had for many years became a reality.

            Again, I cannot express enough gratitude to W.C. Jameson for his encouragement, time, and energy, not to mention his hospitality and friendship. He accrued very little personal gain from this. He put himself out and stuck with it over a period of many years because, as he would say first, it was fun, but also because he saw some merit in my work and because he had it in him to help out an aspiring songwriter who really needed the help. In a Large and Lonesome Land is a significant and unique achievement for me, and I will always be grateful to W.C. Jameson for making it possible.

In a Large and Lonesome Land is available for purchase on CD-Baby, Amazon, and iTunes, and can be streamed on Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

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  1. Jan L Halsey

    John, I am listening to this CD now because I saw this in my email. I’m listening to “Thorns on the Stone” now, so there is 1 more to hear. I love every one and plan to buy this. I have a younger brother who does not have time to read much, but I am sure he would love the CD (and his wife too), then I have an older brother who is not into reading much and the only music is basically oldies…then my other younger brother, loves to read but works like crazy with no time to kick back and read. I’ve told him about your writing and he is interested but says he can’t do much until he retires the end of this year. I feel this will be a great CD. Great job!

    • admin

      Jan: Thank you for writing, and thank you for your kind words of appreciation. I am glad you like the songs. If I can help you with copies of this CD, please let me know. I have several on hand. Thanks again, John.

  2. Farouk A

    Dear Sir
    I love the song Nebraska girl.
    It’s very beautiful.
    Thank you for writing it.

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