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I have a new album out! Here are some details about the song "Chopo" the fourth track from the new release Trade Songs: American West.


This song is by N Howard “Jack” Thorp. He published a pamphlet of cowboy music in 1908 that included 23 songs that he either collected or wrote. John Lomax published many of those songs in his book of cowboy songs, but did not credit Thorp for the songs that he wrote. Needless to say, Thorp was displeased. The same thing happened with Thorp’s song “Little Joe the Wrangler”. Both songs are included in Lomax’s book of cowboy songs, neither with credit to Thorp.

Horses lived a hard life in the 19th century. The romantic vision of the cowboy’s respect and love for his faithful companion, was often not the real truth. Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902, which is set in Medicine Bow, Wyoming (not that far from where I grew up). The book featured scenes of animal abuse, and Wister’s friend President Theodore Roosevelt was displeased at him including that in the book. He acknowledged that it was very common, but it seems that he did not want that to be the image of the west that was remembered. Regardless, horses in the west often lived brutal lives or hard work and maltreatment.

This song is the opposite of that. A song about a cowboy and his beloved and favorite horse. Cowboys switched out horses often while on the long cattle drives. The herd traveled  with a group of horses called the “Remuda” which was tended by the “wrangler”. Wranglers were often young, and inexperienced in trail work. They weren’t well paid, and worked longer hours than the cowboys since they had to wrangle horses in the morning before the drive began, and take care of them after the group had stopped for the day.

Each cowboy had several horses they would use, and the wrangler would bring up new horses throughout the day so they could keep a steady pace on the trail. Often, the cowboys had a favorite horse that they might ride if there were suspicions of storms or something else that might make a herd stampede. Stampedes were dangerous, and having a sure-footed horse, or a horse that didn’t spook easily was important since falling off a horse, or a horse stumbling during a stampede could be deadly.

This is a song about Jack Thorp’s favorite horse.

I can’t remember where I heard this song initially. It’s clear to me that whoever I learned it from got it from the fantastic Don Edwards recording, but the melody I learned is slightly different, though clearly similar. That’s kind of the nature of this music I guess, someone hears it, and remembers it a little differently, and the same thing with the next person, and so on. I remember thinking it was a perfect melody for crosspicking, so I worked out a crosspicking solo for it and played it here.

I hope you enjoy it (and if you like this music go get some Don Edwards records!) 


Chopo - Lyrics

Through rocky arroyos so dark and so deep

Down the side of the mountain so slippery and steep

You’ve good judgment, sure footed, wherever you go

You’re a safety conveyance my little Chopo


Chopo my pony, Chopo my pride

Chopo mi amigo, on Chopo I will ride

From Mexico’s border ‘cross Texas Llanos

To the salt Pecos River I ride you Chopo

Whether single or double or in the lead of a team

Over highways and byways or crossing a stream

You’re always in fix and willing to go

Whenever you’re called on my chico Chopo


You’re a good roping horse. You were never jerked down

When tied to a steer, you will circle him round

Let him once cross the string, and over he’ll go

You sabe the business, my cow-horse Chopo


One day on the Llano, a hail storm began

The herds were stampeded, the horses all ran

The lighting it glittered, a cyclone did blow

But you faced the sweet music my little Chopo


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