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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Many of us can recollect a favorite bedtime story or a song sung to us on the cusp of sleep when we were young. That memory often floods back so vividly.

For this week's What's In A Song from the Western Folklife Center, we hear from someone who cherishes one particular memory about the father he lost early in life. To tell his story is public radio's favorite cowboy poet, philosopher and former large-animal veterinarian, Baxter Black.

BAXTER BLACK: Well, when I was a little boy, we were in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and I can remember sitting on the bed with my brother Bob and my dad sitting on the end of the bed singing, "Little Joe, The Wrangler." He would sing that song, and it was sad. And the hero happens to be a kid.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. DON EDWARDS (Singer): (Singing) Now, little Joe the wrangler, he'll wrangle nevermore. His days with the remuda, they are over. Was a year ago last April when he rode into our camp, just a little Texas…

BLACK: Just a little Texas stray, just a kid walking up to a camp in the middle of nowhere.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Now, he said he had to leave his home, his pa had married twice, and his new ma whipped him every day or two…

BLACK: We don't know how old he is, but we're guessing 12. That's what I always thought. And the cowboys visit with him a little bit and kind of get his story and kind of got to like the kid somehow. So, they gave him a job on the trail. He's on the crew now.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Now, he learned to jingle horses and to know them one and all, and to get them in by daybreak if he could…

BLACK: America has a wonderful soft spot and a reverence for the downtrodden. And here comes this kid, and suddenly his world changes. Cowboys are taking him in and treating him fair and square. And it's the promise of hope. He now has a future.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) We were camped out on the south side in a bin, when a northern commenced to blowing…

BLACK: In the middle of the night, down the trail, they have a big crashing thunderstorm and the herd stampedes. And so everybody gets up in the middle of the night to try and turn them.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Now, amidst the streaks of lightning there was one horse up ahead, it was little…

BLACK: And this flash of lightning shows little Joe out in front saving the day. And then they found where Rocket fell - 20 feet down in a washout, 20 feet below. And beneath him mashed to a pulp…

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) …was our little Texas stray poor wrangler Joe. Next morning just at daybreak…

BLACK: My father, who was still big in our eyes, of course - it's hard to remember. He died back in 1960. And so, little Joe the wrangler - I'm putting words in his mouth and I can't, because I don't know how he was thinking. But somehow it was important enough that that was the song he chose to sing to us. It's a story that has a sad ending, but it has a legitimate hero. And any kid can identify with it. I could have done that.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Joe, The Wrangler")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Now, little Joe the wrangler, he will wrangle nevermore, and his days with a remuda, they are over. 'Twas a year ago last April when he rode into our camp, just a little Texas stray and all alone.

SIMON: Don Edwards' version of "Little Joe, The Wrangler" can be heard at the new npr.org, our Web site. What's In A Song is produced by Hal Canon and Taki Telenedis(ph) of the Western Folklife Center.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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