10 TV Western stars who released catchy songs in the '50s and '60s
Find out how country star Roger Miller played second fiddle to this 'Rawhide' star.
Few things go together as naturally as a cowboy and a song. So it should come as no surprise that many TV Western stars also went on to put out catchy singles and even entire albums to make the most of their fame.
Many of them struck while the iron was hot, releasing songs during the middle of their TV runs. Other stars actually got their start in music before crossing over into acting.
Then, of course, there were shows like Petticoat Junction and Bonanza, where we got a taste for the stars' singing talents during special episodes. These were perhaps the most ripe for Billboard success, because the second they sang a song on TV, suddenly there was a market for it in the music industry.
Here, we've lassoed up the biggest songs that we could find that sprang from TV Westerns. See if you remember these plucky folk, country and rock tunes perking up your ear when you heard it on the radio and wondered, "Hey, that sounds just like…."
Watch Petticoat Junction on MeTV – Saturdays at 6 AM & 6:30 AM *available in most MeTV markets
The Rifleman star Johnny Crawford released a couple singles in 1961, but his first song to chart was called "Cindy's Birthday." Released in 1962, it remains one of his biggest singles, reaching No. 8. After gathering some early steam, Crawford released five albums by 1965, including two greatest hits compilations, as well as LPs The Captivating Johnny Crawford, A Young Man's Fancy and Rumors. Other Crawford hits include "Rumors" and "Your Nose Is Gonna Grow," but we're going to give it to his birthday song for sticking with us the most over the years. Listen below.
Rawhide's Sheb Wooley wrote the popular 1958 novelty song "The Purple People Eater," which the Billboard charts ate right up. It reached No. 1 that year. This may lead you to believe he was a one-trick pony, but unlike a lot of Western stars who only dabbled in songs, Sheb took his music seriously. He released 18 albums between 1956 and 1973. Beyond that, it should delight any country music fans out there to know that in that time, he also bought famous country songwriter Roger Miller his first fiddle and taught him how to play chords on the guitar! They met after Wooley married Miller's cousin, Melva Miller.
Wagon Train's Robert Horton later starred in a short-lived 1965 ABC Western series called A Man Called Shenandoah. It only lasted a season, but Horton was all-in when it came to helping the show succeed. He even wrote the lyrics to the TV's theme, which musically was a version of the traditional folk song "Oh Shenandoah." He eventually recorded the song as simply "Shenandoah" in 1967 as part of his album The Man Called Shenandoah.
Unlike the likes of Johnny Crawford and Sheb Wooley, whose music careers seemed to be in step with their acting roles, Bonanza's Lorne Greene started making albums specifically to capitalize off his TV fame. You can hardly blame him, and fans totally rewarded him by diving into the stream of releases he put out from 1963 to 1968. His spoken-word western ballad "Ringo" actually charted in 1964, though, and what do you know, it went all the way to No. 1.
Of course, Pa Cartwright wasn't the only one in the Bonanza family who could carry a tune. Little Joe got in on the singing business, too, and he actually beat his pa to releasing tunes. Michael Landon had a single in 1957, borrowing off the success of his movie I Was a Teenage Werewolf. It was called "Gimme a Little Kiss," and it's a sweet little number that was good enough to re-release in 1962, this time with Landon's Little Joe Cartwright character smiling on its cover. In 1964, he tried it again with the single "Linda Is Lonesome," if you're looking to hear more from Landon, as some swooning girls were back in the 1960s.
You had to be wondering if Adam Cartwright caught the singing bug along with the rest of his TV family, and you'd be right to guess he did. Pernell Roberts released Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies in 1963, an album of standard folks songs with his own songwriting slant on them. The Bonanza man's voice is deep and soothing and almost sounds like he's more a son of country singer Randy Travis than his TV dad Lorne Greene, particularly on the title track.
Dennis Weaver first appeared on Gunsmoke in 1955, and it was while he was on the show that he decided to start pumping out music, too. His first single was in 1959 and called "Girls Wuz Made to Be Loved," a woozy country croon that practically drips off the record. He'd release a few more singles between 1959 and 1963, then again in the 1970s and '80s, but nothing really caught on beyond the success of his first release.
After a successful movie career in the '30s and '40s where he scooped up three Academy Awards, Walter Brennan joined TV's cast of The Real McCoys from 1957 to 1963 as Grandpa Amos. While on the show, he also went ahead and put out three records. The most successful was 1962's Old Rivers, and the title track climbed up to No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
It may not have been a traditional Western, but it did center around a locomotive. The sitcom Petticoat Junction was definitely not immune to the crossover crazy from Western shows to country music. Even Uncle Joe Carson got involved. In 1967, Edgar Buchanan was tapped to provide narration for a special version of "Phantom 309."
The Girls from 'Petticoat Junction'
On Petticoat Junction, the Bradley sisters form their own band, The Ladybugs, featuring Linda Kaye Henning, Pat Woodell, and Jeannine Riley. It was such a big deal that they actually performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 to tease the episode. Later, as Petticoat Junction went through cast changes, the group's face changed slightly, with Lori Saunders and Merideth MacRae replacing Woodell and Riley. It was this group that released The Girls of Petticoat Junction: Sixties Sound LP in 1967. Watch the girls cover "Up, Up and Away" in the music video below.