Red River Dave McEnery

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Texan country singer-songwriter with hints of cowboy and blues and a penchant for chronicling historic events.
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b. David McEnery, 15 December 1914, San Antonio, Texas, USA, close to the Alamo, d. 15 January 2002, USA. Being a Texan, McEnery naturally became interested in things appertaining to the western life and as a boy at school, took to playing the guitar and singing cowboy songs. His fondness for ‘Red River Valley’ led to his nickname when he started his professional career. He played on local radio in the early 30s, but during the decade he also played many stations in various places, including New York State where the northern audiences were taken with the singing cowboy and his strange saga songs. He developed a penchant for writing songs of historic events such as ‘The Battle Of The Alamo’ and ‘Pony Express’ and his first real break came in 1937, with his saga song ‘Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight’. Following this, he moved to Chicago for a time and in 1939, was invited to New York to sing his song of the lost aviator and others on the first commercial television broadcast at the World’s Fair. In the early 40s, he returned to San Antonio, Texas and began regular appearances on Border Radio station XERF where, billing himself as ‘your favourite Texas Farmboy’, he sang his songs and sold his sets of six songbooks, which he classed as ‘a complete library of cowboy, hillbilly and sacred songs’. He also appeared on local US stations and during the 40s and 50s, recorded for several labels. He wrote many songs including ‘I’m A Convict With Old Glory In My Heart’ (about the man who wanted to fight but was in jail) and as the war ended, he tugged at his listeners’ heartstrings with such maudlin numbers as ‘The Blind Boy’s Dog’ (later recorded with success by Hank Snow). McEnery was never short on gimmicks. In 1936, he claimed to be the first (and probably the last) singing cowboy to broadcast from an airship when high above Miami, he sang ‘Way Out There’, over the airwaves of CBS, from the Goodyear blimp. In 1946, he was handcuffed to a piano for 12 hours and wrote songs from titles that people selected from magazines. By the end, he claimed a total of 52 completed songs.

In the 40s, he appeared in several films, including Swing In The Saddle, Hidden Valley and Echo Ranch but had made some appearances in earlier films in the 30s. Although he was a singer of cowboy songs for many years and was an expert on them, he is probably now best remembered for his saga songs. After the success of the Amelia Earhart song, he continued over the years to turn out such numbers of news interest including ‘Ballad Of Emmett Till’, ‘The Flight Of Gary Powers’, ‘The Flight Of Apollo Eleven’ and ‘The Ballad Of Patty Hearst’. He appeared on countless radio and television programmes and built the reputation of being something of a character, as well as becoming an ordained Pentecostal minister. Many of the major country stars recorded his songs and amongst his many tribute songs, he once recorded a dedication to his friend, Bob Wills, called ‘Somewhere I Hear Angels Singing The San Antone Rose’.

McEnery moved to Nashville in the mid 70s, where he became noted for his flamboyant western dress with gold boots, his long white hair and goatee beard, all of which made him look a most distinctive resident somewhat like a modern Buffalo Bill Cody. He later returned to his native Texas, where he dispensed with the white locks and beard and reverted to more normal attire but still maintained his regular public appearances at folk festivals and similar events in many parts of the USA.