My song today is ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. This is a song written by Larry Weiss and most famously recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. When released in 1975, it enjoyed huge popularity with both country and pop audiences.
Weiss wrote and recorded "Rhinestone Cowboy" in 1974, and it appeared on his ‘20th Century Records’ album ‘Black and Blue Suite’ It did not, however, initially have much of a commercial impact as a single. In late 1974, Campbell heard the song on the radio and, during a tour of Australia and decided to learn it. Soon after his return to the United States, Campbell went to the office of ‘Capitol Records’ where he was approached about ‘a great new song’ called ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’.
Released in May 1975, "Rhinestone Cowboy" immediately caught on with both country and pop audiences. The song spent that summer climbing both the ‘Billboard Hot Country Singles’ and Billboard Hot 100’ charts before peaking at Number 1 by season's end. The song was ranked at Number 2 position for 1975 and it also topped the charts in Canada and several other countries.
After Glen Campbell died in August 2017, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ charted in ‘Country Digital Song’ chart at Number 12.
Hearing this song always reminds me of the few years that I spent in Canada during the early 60s. During my earlier period in that lovely country, I worked as a customer server of refreshments and fruit in the train carriages of the ‘Canadian Pacific Railroad’. I did not do this job for the basic pay, or to enhance my professional image. The $1 an hour pay would not keep a church mouse on cheese and the chances of starting as a server on CPN Railway and working my way up the corporate ladder to become the Chairman and owner of the railway were very slim indeed. No! I wanted to find the cheapest method of travelling as extensively as I could across Canada and some of the United States. So, I decided early on that unless I became a train driver, the most economical way to travel across the country by train was as a worker on the trains instead of being a paying passenger.
This plan could not have turned out better for me. I now enjoyed the magnificent opportunity of travelling across some of the most beautiful countrysides in the world at no cost on my regular three-day to six-day return runs across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver (3000 miles) and Toronto to Calvary (1685 miles) plus stopover times of one day.
Some of the nicest lands I saw was in and around Calgary which the Canadians know as ‘God’s Country’. Calgary is geographically located in the western Canadian province of Alberta. It is situated at the confluence of the ‘Bow River’ and the ‘Elbow River’ in the south of the province, in an area of foothills and prairie, approximately 50 miles east of the front ranges of the ‘Canadian Rockies’ and about 150 miles from the Canadian-United States border. With a population of 1.3 million people, Calgary is Alberta’s largest city.
Today, Calgary's economy includes all manner of economic activity in the energy, financial services, film and television, transportation and logistics, technology, manufacturing and aerospace. Calgary also has the highest number of millionaires per capita of any major Canadian city. In 1988 it became the first Canadian city to host the ‘Winter Olympic Games’. The ‘Economist Intelligence Unit’ ranked Calgary the most ‘livable’ city in North America in both 2018 and 2019. Calgary has been a top 5 contender for this title for the last 10 years.
Back in the day that I was there though, mention the mere word ‘Calgary’ to anyone in America and they would instantly reply “That’s the place with the best rodeo in the world, the ‘Calgary Stampede!’” And that is what Calgary means to me, and which my CPN train-journey stopovers enabled me to see during 1964.
It all began with ‘The Calgary and District Agricultural Society’ which was formed in 1884 to promote the town and encourage farmers and ranchers from eastern Canada to move west. Sufficient land was purchased five years later on the banks of the ‘Elbow River’ to host the exhibitions, but crop failures, poor weather, and a declining economy resulted in the society ceasing operations in 1895. Exhibitions started again at the turn of the century, until, in 1908, the Government of Canada announced that Calgary would host the federally funded ‘Dominion Exhibition’ that year. This heralded the birth of the ‘Calgary Stampede’.
The ‘Calgary Stampede’ is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The ten-day event, which bills itself as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’, attracts over one million visitors per year and features one of the world's largest rodeos, along with other attractions. In 2008, the Calgary Stampede was inducted into the ‘Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame’.
Organized by thousands of volunteers and supported by civic leaders, the ‘Calgary Stampede’ has grown into one of the world's richest rodeos, one of Canada's largest festivals, and a significant tourist attraction for the city. Rodeo and chuckwagon racing events are televised across Canada. However, both have been the target of increasing international criticism by animal welfare groups and politicians concerned about particular events as well as animal rights organizations seeking to ban rodeo in general. None of these protest groups existed way back in 1964 when the rodeo was much wilder and the concern for cattle, horses and steers did not stir the nation’s conscience and concerns as it rightly does today in 2020.
Just imagine how it must have felt for a young man (the oldest in a family of seven children) born into an economically poor family and living in England, and where the highlight of one’s year would be a day trip to Blackpool, a ride on the Dodgems and being visually amazed by the sheer height of the Pleasure Beach ‘Big Dipper’ ride in the seaside skyline.
Now, imagine the same young man living and working on Canadian trains (forty or fifty carriages long) that seemingly went on for a mile. Then, imagine the same young man (the furthest he had ever previously travelled was to Ireland where he was born), travelling thousands of miles across the Canadian prairie and seeing the spectacular sights of mere mortals riding the fiercest of unbroken steers and mounting wild horses in the rodeo shows, as the watching crowd waited with bated breath to see a rider thrown from his saddle and be gored by the deadly horns of a crazed bill in a fatal downfall, or stomped to death by two tons of wild stallion!
Such was my enviable experience during 1964 as I watched that star-spangled rodeo, the ‘Calgary, Stampede’ in Alberta, Canada. This is what today’s song will always remind me of.
Love and peace Bill xxx