Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Back in the Saddle Again

Co-written and first recorded by Ray Whitley (1938).
Hit version by co-writer Gene Autry (US #13/C&W #1 1939).

From the wiki: “‘Back in the Saddle Again’ was co-written by Ray Whitley with Gene Autry and first recorded by Whitley in 1938. A true Georgia born showman, Whitley was one of those guys who did a little bit of everything: He served in the Navy, ventured up to New York where he worked on the Empire State Building construction crew, he could snap the tip of a cigarette off with a bullwhip and, if remembered for nothing else, Whitley designed the guitar that would become a staple of Gibson’s line – the Super Jumbo.

“During the Depression, Whitley began to sing to make some money on the side. He ended up co-hosting a radio program called The Village Barn Dance with another young Western singer, Tex Ritter, and the two eventually made their way to Hollywood.

“Whitley wrote ‘Back in the Saddle’ for a movie called Border G-Men. Whitley recalled ‘My producer from RKO Studios called about 5:00 AM and said they needed another song for a 7:00 AM session. When I hung up and my wife Kay asked who was on the phone I said ‘I’m back in the saddle again; they need another song.’ She said ‘you already have the title.’ After an hour I had the first verse finished and as I left said ‘I’ll add a whoopie-ti-yi-yay or something when we record it.’

“Whitley would appear in at least sixty films and, as biographer Doug Green says, someone missed the boat by never casting him as a lead. Whitley’s last film role cast him as the manager of James Dean’s character in Giant in 1956. During the 1950s, Whitley also briefly managed the Sons of the Pioneers and Jimmy Wakely.

“Later, Autry would buy the song from Whitley for $350. He tinkered with it (gaining the co-writer’s credit by doing so), recorded it numerous times, put it in movies and then spent the next 60 years living it. ‘Back in the Saddle’ became so associated with Autry throughout his career that he used it as the title of his 1976 autobiography. Autry’s original 1939 recording would become his second gold record. The Western Writers of America in 2010 added ‘Back in the Saddle’ as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.”

Gene Autry, “Back in the Saddle Again” (1939):

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