Cody Bryant and the Riders of the Purple Sage are returning to perform in Bakersfield, with a repeat appearance through the Community Concert Association.
Western music, or cowboy music as it is sometimes known, is a unique creation of the American experience. A mix of European folk songs, with influence from American Indian and Mexican music, Western music gets its unique sound from the environment and stories of the Western United States -- through imitating the howls and bellows of coyote and cattle, and the rhythms of horses walking, trotting and galloping; and creating poetry out of famous gunfights and legendary characters, flavored with the slang of the prairie and the frontier towns. Portable instruments such as the harmonica and the fiddle helped create the characteristic sound of the cowboy song.
It's important to keep a distinction between Western, or cowboy, music and country music, which has long been associated with Western.
"Country and Western music came to a parting of the ways in the 1980s," said Marsha Short, executive director of the Western Music Association. "Country music picked up more rock music, electric guitars and such."
"Western music is acoustic guitar, maybe a bass and nice harmonies," Short said. "And about the West and the outdoors, and the Western way of life."
Short noted that Western music became popular in the 20th century, primarily because of the success of "singing cowboys" such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and legendary bands such as the Sons of the Pioneers.
"Cowboys were always singing around the campfire," Short said. "But (the Sons of the Pioneers) really brought it to the fore."
Named after the Zane Grey novel, The Riders of the Purple Sage has had several incarnations. The first band was founded by performer Jack Dalton in 1932 and performed for a few years. In 1936, a second band was founded by Buck Page, a young singer and songwriter, as a staff band for Pittsburgh radio station KDKA. During World War II, Page and his band were in the military. A third band with the same name, but under the leadership of California singer Foy Willing, appeared in several movies and is the best-known version of the Riders.
The current incarnation of the Riders of the Purple Sage consists of Cody Bryant on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Ley on bass and harmonica, Evan Marshall on mandolin and fiddle, Doug Livingston on steel guitar, and Landon McCoy on drums. Band manager Steve Swartout said Bryant's band is the descendant of the Willing band.
"Sharon Willing, Foy's widow, asked Cody to take on that name and keep the legacy of the Riders of the Purple Sage alive," Swartout said. "She's attended some of the band's shows, including at the Rabobank."
Swartout said although the current version of the Riders carries on the legacy of traditional Western music, the band also performs music from other traditions, and adds new songs written in the Western style.
"Our forte is Western and Western Swing, but Cody will throw in just about anything anyone wants to hear," Swartout said. "You really get the whole spectrum."
The Riders are making their third appearance in Bakersfield with this show. Their first concert was through the Community Concert Association in November 2008, and the band performed with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra in October 2010. Normally, the CCA doesn't repeat concert programs, but treasurer Diane Ackley said the Riders were a special case.
"Because people wanted them," Ackley said. "It was a very popular concert and people asked for them to come back."
Ackley said tickets for the concert are available in the lobby before the performance. The $80 price is a season ticket, and is good for the remaining five concerts of the association's 2012-13 season, including the Riders.