June 30th 2005

 

Davy Crockett, frontiersman, backwoods politician and all-American folk hero, played a key part in my musical education.
Historians will tell you that the charismatic Crockett, crack shot, witty speech maker, humble with it, served two terms in the Tennessee state legislature and three in the House of Representatives, before being martyred at the Alamo in 1836 by Santa Ana and his Mexican hordes. He never ventured much further east than the Mississippi and certainly never set foot in Stafford.
But that’s all historians know.
Me and my pals Bugs and Clifford were like that with Davy. He was part of our gang for the whole of the summer of 1955. That’s why we knew for a fact that he was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. We never doubted, either, that he was raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree and that he kilt himself a b’ar when he was only three.
History had nothing to do with it.
Blame Walt Disney and a long-forgotten actor called Fess Parker.
Together they lit the blue touch paper of a film firecracker that exploded into a baby boomer phenomenon.
The Davy Crockett Craze began with a half-hour TV series in America, grew into three full-length feature films and ended with every under-ten-year-old boy in the western hemisphere sporting a coonskin cap and carrying a flint-lock popgun called Old Betsy.
Oh, and there was that song.
The Ballad of Davy Crockett was written in 20 minutes by a pair of  studio hacks and used in a Disneyland show in the autumn of 1954 as a teaser for an upcoming adventure series with Fess Parker in the title role.
It was recorded by among others Eddie Arnold, Fred Waring, the Sons of the Pioneers, Steve Allen, Mitch Miller, Rusty Draper and Burl Ives. The most popular version, by Bill Hayes, sold nearly seven million copies and spent six months in the Top 20.
Fess Parker’s was the only one Bugs, Clifford and I would consider listening to. It was the first record I ever bought and we played it white.
Summer companions in previous years included Dartagnan and Allan (correct) Quartermain, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Davy Crockett who taught all three of us how to shoot, fight red indians and die bravely.
It sounds immodest, but my DC outfit was a worldbeater. The coonskin cap bore more than a passing resemblance to a jumble-sale fox fur donated by my Gran and real authenticity was provided by a buckskin shirt made from the blouse of my sister’s old Brownie uniform.
Shucks, I was the envy of every corpse at the Alamo, the location of which depended on whose garden we were in at the time.
Davy hung around until we went back to school. I don’t think that old 78 found its way on to the record-player again and by the following year my musical taste had matured.
The next single I bought was The Ying Tong Song.

 

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