Haunted Songs in Country Music: Ghost Riders in the Sky
Stan Jones, who wrote the song in June 1948, heard about the ghost riders from a real cowboy: "...As lightning flashed, the Cowboy told the boy to watch closely and he would see the devil's herd, their eyes red and hooves flashing, stampede ahead of phantom horsemen. The Cowboy warned the youth that if he didn't watch himself, he would someday be up there with them, chasing steers for all eternity..."
More than 50 performers have recorded versions of the song. Charting versions were recorded by The Outlaws, Vaughn Monroe ("Riders in the Sky" with orchestra and vocal quartet), by Bing Crosby (with the Ken Darby Singers), Frankie Laine, Burl Ives, (Two different versions), Marty Robbins, and Johnny Cash. Other recordings were made by Peggy Lee (with the Jud Conlon Singers) and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Gene Autry sang it in the 1949 movie, Riders in the Sky.
Thee original version was recorded on February 17, 1949 by Burl Ives. It first appeared on the Billboard charts on April 22, 1949, lasting 6 weeks and peaking at position #21. Riders in the Sky recorded this song on their debut album, Three on the Trail, in 1979. Johnny Cash recorded the song in 1979 and later with Willie Nelson on VH1 Storytellers in 1988.
Lyrics: An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry
Yippie yi Ohhhhh Yippie yi yaaaaay Ghost Riders in the sky
Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat He's riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain't caught 'em yet 'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky On horses snorting fire As they ride on hear their cry
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies
Yippie yi Ohhhhh Yippie yi Yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky Ghost Riders in the sky Ghost Riders in the sky