Harry Lowe

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"One less cowboy" would be the way some folks would see it, nary a tear in their eye. Still it must be discouraging to lovers of cowboy songs to find out that an endearing sounding character known as…
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"One less cowboy" would be the way some folks would see it, nary a tear in their eye. Still it must be discouraging to lovers of cowboy songs to find out that an endearing sounding character known as the Roaming Ranger did not actually exist, let alone roam the range. The name Harry Lowe -- common enough, sounding like it relates to cows but in this case also not representing a living entity -- was also associated with the Roaming Ranger during a spate of copyright activities during the '30s, resulting in an only slightly less evocative credit, Harry Lowe the Roaming Ranger. A populace hungry for Americana and cowboy songs might have eagerly embraced the idea of a performing Roaming Ranger. The name only shows up on recordings and sheet music as a songwriting credit, however, suiting the purposes of the man behind it: producer, A&R man, label manager and publisher Joe Davis.

Dozens of pseudonyms, both male and female, have been connected with Davis for various popular songwriting enterprises. In many cases the basic idea was to steal the royalties for a folk song. None of these scams are as heavily connected with the legends of the American west as the Roaming Ranger. In 1935 alone some of the most famous public domain western ditties were published and copyrighted with Roaming Ranger listed as the songwriter, among them "The Buffallo Hunters," "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" and the famous "Cowboy's Lament."

In a case bordering on schizophrenia, a vintage cowboy song titled "Sam Bass" was credited to the Roaming Ranger and Joe Davis, sending both halves of the publishing pie to the same person. In subsequent years, many recordings of such cowboy songs revert to a traditional public domain credit. Alan Lomax also takes the songwriting credit for "Cowboy's Lament" on a Pete Seeger disc.