Rocky Adamson, The Singing Constable of Dayton, NV
In September of 1967, my band, The Scragg Family had been the house band at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, for three months and we’d continue through October. It’s about 3+ hours’ drive from the haps at San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury, where they were busy with their Summer Of Love. We performed shows at the Dog six days a week; afternoons for the tourists and evenings for the locals.
Rocky Adamson came up from Dayton to see us, in living color, though seemingly right out of a black and white John Ford film: Stetson hat, blue denim shirt, blue jeans, tall cowboy boots that have seen some wear, and a bright red bandanna. He orders a whiskey, watches our show, and introduces himself: “I’m Rocky Adamson, out of Dayton, down Six Mile Canyon. I like your music and I was wondering if you’d like to hear some cowboys songs.” I told Rocky that, seeing as how I’d been raised since a 7 year old kid on Tex Ritter songs, I’d like nothing better! I also told him we have cowboys in Switzerland, but they work on foot, as there’s not much room for horses! He laughs. I ask him about his life and music. I ask him if I could record a few of his songs and he agrees, providing I help him do some cowboy work, doctoring a sick steer.
We agree to meet one Monday evening at Sutro Saloon, a bar made from an old machinery warehouse at the site of the famous Sutro Tunnel, east of Dayton. (You can see the exterior in the photo used for our front page logo.)
I set up a microphone and stool for him and get my tape machine ready. Rocky asks that I play some mandolin with him, but I keep it low key, since it is his music I want to record. A few friends stopped by and we had a fine song session. Here are a couple of songs recorded that evening.
Songs by Rocky, ca. October, 1967. Roberts 1/2 track mono recorder, Sony F-97 microphone.
Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail was composed by Gail I. Gardner of Prescott, AZ in 1917, and has now entered into the oral tradition. It’s a song about a couple of cowpokes who go on a spree on Whiskey Row, a string of saloons in old Prescott, well known to Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and their compadres. And who do they run into but the Devil himself!
Yavapai Pete was composed by another Arizonan, Curley Fletcher, most famous for his song The Strawberry Roan. It’s the story of a cowboy n’ere do well superhero, who — down on his luck — encounters a “she grizzly bear”. Our hero isn’t a bit fazed and turns his bad luck to good in the encounter. The song has become known throughout the West, but to northern cowboys not familiar with Arizopna’s Yavapai County, the name has been changed, eg. in Montana, it’s known as Iron Pants Pete.
Rocky Adamson with Laura and Stony Tennant
For those of you who’ve enjoyed Rocky’s songs, we hope to shortly release a CD with several more songs, along with other music recorded up in the Sierras and California’s Central Valley. Contact us if you’d like to be informed when the CD project is finished. Thanks for reading!