Last Updated on September 25, 2020 by Steve Mayhew
Having recently been pointed in the direction of a song about John Wayne by Red Sovine entitled “The Hero”, I thought I’d have a go at putting together a playlist of other songs inspired by the much-missed actor.
I was well aware of the recent release by Lady Gaga called “John Wayne” but, upon further investigation, I uncovered a whole bunch of other musical tributes to JW that I didn’t even know existed up until now.
On top of this there’s a lot of tunes out there, some famous, some not, that namecheck him in one way or the other that definitely justify further investigation.
I’ve therefore put together a list of ten of these tunes, well aware there must be a lot of other musical tributes to JW I’ve yet to discover for myself, so if you’re inclined to help I’d appreciate any other suggestions you might have for a follow up article on this subject.
In the meantime, I’ve listened to all of the songs listed here, not specifically by preference as I don’t want to impose my musical tastes where they might not be wanted. Hope you enjoy the music.
PS I made a conscious decision to only include those songs that celebrate JW in a positive light. There’s a few out there that don’t but I’m sure you can check those out for yourselves if that’s the way your stick floats. On with the show.
John Wayne – Lady Gaga
On the assumption that I hopefully haven’t misunderstood the lyrics, what with me not being Lady Gaga’s target audience, then this is probably the most high-profile song to feature John Wayne as the main subject.
A combination of house music, disco and anything else the producers decided to throw in, the single didn’t exactly set the world alight upon its release a few years back, peaking at 34 in the Hungarian music charts.
On the other hand, seeing as the Lady gives such a feisty vocal performance, as well as putting together a highly energetic video, it’s just good to know her fans are at the very least being made aware that JW even existed.
Seeing as Lady Gaga volunteers that she “loves a cowboy”, “craves a real man” and is “strung out on John Wayne”, I can think of at least eighty JW cowboy movies to help feed her habit.
On the evidence of her music video alone I’d even personally volunteer to deliver the DVDs to her door, social distancing be damned. Love the geetar with the image JW on the back too.
John Wayne Walking Away – Lari White
Female country artist Lari White introduces an interesting spin on a broken heart by likening her partner leaving to that of John Wayne walking away, presumably referencing the end of “The Searchers”.
Lari sings of being left with a “memory that won’t ever fade, like John Wayne walking away”. Almost as poignant as the film itself.
John Wayne – Seals and Crofts
Soft rock duo Seals and Crofts warbling in their recognisable style the sentiment that “I have a mind with a mind of its own, a soul like the soul of John Wayne.” Quite a breezy – breezy, “Summer Breeze”, see what I did there? – little song with a YouTube video featuring an interesting set of clips from “Red River”, “McLintock!, “The Cowboys”, “Rio Bravo” and “Big Jake” to name but a few.
John Wayne – Hollis Brown
This song , a hymn-like tribute to Wayne, runs for about seven minutes but it’s worth sticking with just to listen out for the numerous changes in style as the song progresses.
You’ll hear hard rock infused with Neil Young influenced guitar playing as well as a slight homage to the music of Ennio Morricone. The lyrics lament the absence of John Wayne in the world, stating
“John Wayne you’re forever gone
Good old Duke
I’ve been waiting all my life
To see you again”
Give it a couple of listens and I guarantee it will definitely grow on you.
I Miss John Wayne – Dan Roberts
Some of these songs namecheck JW movies and this one is no exception, country cowboy singer Dan Roberts crooning “with true grit in his teeth he held the reins”.
It’s quite a nice song if truth be told with a great intro featuring violin and pedal steel guitar to put it squarely in the C & W bracket.
There’s another song that goes by the same title by Creed Fisher but I found the sentiments a bit too incendiary if I’m honest. Stick with Dan on this one.
Marion Michael Morrison – Ray Stevens
Ray Stevens, known more as a novelty act than a serious singer, over here in the UK anyway, pays tribute to Duke, managing to shoehorn in quite a few of JWs movies along the way:
“He went to reap the wild wind
In old California
and across the Rio Grande
From a stage coach on a big trail
To Rio Bravo and back again
He rode on wings of eagles this quiet man”
Released in 1992 on a “Best of” compilation, Stevens is more solemn than usual, singing a self-penned tribute to JW that’s about as far away from “The Streak” and “Bridget the Midget” as you can get.
Come on Back Jesus – Willie Nelson
Firmly in C&W territory, country singing legend Willie Nelson bemoans that “the world’s done gone crazy so come on back Jesus and pick up John Wayne on the way”. Hallelujah to that. Some great backing vocals by Billy Joe Shaver along with Lukas and Micah Nelson.
Jesus and John Wayne – Gaither Vocal Band
A mixture of country and gospel, the audience sure do seem to be loving this song by the Gaither Vocal Band. Apart from Bill Gaither himself the personnel of the group appears to change on a frequent basis but lead singer on this version of the song, Guy Penrod, is obviously an asset, his singing reminiscent of a young Kenny Rogers.
The song voices the doubts of a young man who might not be up to making his parents proud resigned to the fact that he might not be perfect:
“Somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne.
A cowboy and a saint, crossing the open range.
I try to be more like you Lord, but most days I know I ain’t!
I’m somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne”
There’s also a song called “John Wayne and Jesus” by Pat Green if you prefer another take on the subject.
I Wish John Wayne Was a Country Singer– Albert and his Dream Boats
Albert and the boys have gone the whole hog and articulated what I think a lot of us must feel listening to these musical tributes to JW.
He has a great band behind him, particularly the piano player, and the lyrics also contain a few namechecks to country singers such as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and eventually ole’ Duke himself. As the lyrics go:
“Giving me faith that a country could last
If I had a shot of mine to change the past
the Duke would play guitar with a record contract”
Mind you, maybe Albert never got around to checking out those early 1930s JW Singin’ Sandy films. If he had maybe he might have written a completely different song, but you’ve got to love the sentiment just the same
The Hero (John Wayne) – Red Sovine
Released in 2013, here’s the song that inspired this article, a genuine heartfelt tribute to Duke sung in that customary breath-skipping near-crying hold-back-those-tears style of Red Sovine, master of the tear-jerking C&W spoken word songs.
Self-penned by Red, he charts Duke’s life from beginning to end, recalling “Saturday matinees” when he “rode the range with a friend of mine”.
Starting with a lush orchestration worthy of Glen Campbell at his Capitol-singles best, the song perfectly encapsulates what it was must have been like for a lot of kids growing up on a diet of JW movies.
It certainly charts my childhood from the 1950s and 60s and that’s a fact.
So there you have it. Ten songs from quite a list out there dedicated in one way or another to the enduring legend that is John Wayne. To echo the sentiments of Albert and his Dream Boats,
“Damn I wish I could hear a playlist of John Wayne country songs”
Now you can put your own JW playlist together and listen to these songs in the comfort of your home or on your iPhone courtesy of Spotify which has all the songs listed here apart from “Michael Marion Morrison” by Ray Stevens.
Happy listening and don’t be shy in sharing with our Mostly Westerns JW fans further additions to our John Wayne playlist.