8 great musical performances from classic TV Westerns

Clint Eastwood, Ken Curtis — not to mention guest stars like Lou Rawls and Ann Blyth — all sang in memorable Western episodes.

Classic TV Westerns have endured not just because of their exciting action and heroics but also because of their humor, heart and surprises— like the many musical performances.

Sometimes shows used their talented casts to perform folk ditties or even write original music while others enlisted famous guest stars to add musicality to the Old West. Here are some of our favorite musical moments from classic Westerns.   

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1. Lou Rawls – The Big Valley

Singer Lou Rawls is best known as the Grammy-winning crooner of Seventies singles like “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” but he did his fair share of acting as well. He appeared in everything from Mannix to Fantasy Island to Baywatch. His very first acting gig came on the 1960s Western The Big Valley. He played the title character in the episode “Joshua Watson,” a skilled cowboy who competes with the Barkley family in a rodeo against a rival ranch. In one of the episode's quieter moments, Rawls sings a beautiful rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” beside the campfire.

2. Hoyt Axton and Pernell Roberts – Bonanza

Folk singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton first appeared on the scene in the early 1960s. He came from song-writing royalty as the son of the “Queen Mother of Nashville” Mae Boren Axton— co-writer of the Elvis hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” The younger Axton also acted throughout his career. Before appearing in movies like Gremlins and shows like WKRP in Cincinnati, he made his screen debut in the season six Bonanza episode “Dead and Gone.” The show took full advantage of his talents, giving him no less than six songs to sing. He sang the folk tune “Poor Howard” as well as two original duets— “Smile as You Go By” and “Endless Road”— joined by Adam Cartwright himself, Pernell Roberts.

3. Ken Curtis – Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke also featured an original tune written by an actor. Ken Curtis, who played Deputy Marshal Festus Haggen, was both a jazz band and country singer before he won his most famous acting role. He occasionally got to use his talent in Dodge City, mostly putting on Festus’ ornery hillbilly accent to supply a ditty for a barn dance or hoedown. But Ken Curtis played it straight singing a song he wrote for the episode “Once a Haggen.” Bucko, a friend of Festus played by Slim Pickens, is sentenced to hang. As seen in the video above, Festus sings the solemn melody “Six Shiny Black Horses” as Bucko accompanies on the harmonica.

4. Ken Curtis – Have Gun – Will Travel

Before his time on Gunsmoke, Ken Curtis appeared in many other Westerns – and even showed off his singing chops! In the Have Gun – Will Travel episode “Love’s Young Dream,” Curtis plays a pelt scavenger named Monk. With Paladin’s help, the dirty trapper cleans himself up and performs the folk song “Fare Thee Well” also known as “Dink’s Song.”

5. Peggy King – Maverick

Vocalist Peggy King was a frequent guest performer on variety shows in the 1950s and ’60s. She appeared on American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Show, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, The Jack Benny Show and many more. She even sang in the 1955 film Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy. King also acted in numerous scripted shows including Maverick. In “The Strange Journey of Jenny Hill,” King plays the titular singer who Bret Maverick suspects might be connected to a killer. Along with a few folk songs, King performs a memorable rendition of “Some Sunday Morning,” originally sung by Alexis Smith in the 1945 film San Antonio. The same song was also covered by Clint Walker and Joan Weldon in an episode of Cheyenne.

6. Clint Eastwood – Rawhide

Though he’s best known for his tough, growling charisma, Clint Eastwood is also a talented singer. He even earned good money singing around the country during his days on Rawhide. The series showcased his vocal skills onscreen as well, for a brief moment in the episode “Incident of the Hostages” and Rowdy’s memorable perfomance onstage in “The Pitchwagon.” The latter rendition of “Beyond the Sun” was accompanied on the piano by none other than Buddy Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies.

7. Johnny Crawford – The Rifleman

Johnny Crawford was singing on TV since his early days in The Mickey Mouse Club, so it’s only natural that his character in the The Rifleman would have a song or two. In fact, Johnny Crawford’s performance of the original song “Something Special” in the episode “A Young Man’s Fancy” was tied to his album released the same year. The album was also called A Young Man’s Fancy and featured “Something Special” and the single “Cindy’s Birthday.” Later in The Rifleman, Crawford performed a sweet rendition of “Greensleeves” in the show’s final episode.

8. Ann Blyth – Wagon Train

Ann Blyth, a star of 1940s films like Mildred Pierce and Once More, My Darling was extremely picky about the small-screen roles she chose when television came along in the 1950s. One part— well, two parts— she couldn’t say no to were Jenny and Phoebe Tannen in Wagon Train. She played both mother and daughter in one of the show’s best episodes. The story follows Phoebe trying to find her famous mother, now hiding from the limelight. Blyth, as Phoebe, sings two songs written specifically for the show: “Golden West” and “Tomorrow.” The young composer who wrote the music for each song? John Williams, then credited as Johnny.

 
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LoveMETV22 2 months ago
There have been some great Musicals not just westerns over the years. If you like musicals.
Llaking 2 months ago
How could we neglect applecheeked babyface Wayne Newton on Bonanaza?!
MikefromJersey 2 months ago
James Mitchum, B movie regular and brother of Robert Mitchum, had a beautiful singing voice
and on a F -Troop episode sang the Ballad of Agarn as a strolling minstrel. Usually he played
Hoffenmueller on F -Troop. I haven't seen this series since the 1970's, it's odd the useless
info one remembers. Believe it or not, the Agarn Ballad was quite catchy.
UTZAAKE 2 months ago
1 & 2. Both Lou Rawls (Budweiser) and Hoyt Axton (Busch) were Anheuser Busch spokesmen in the late 1970s.

Then, there's Rawls' powerful backup vocals on Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me."
MarkSpeck 2 months ago
Pernell Roberts had his own album on RCA, entitled Come All, Ye Fair and Tender Ladies. The entire Bonanza cast did a couple of albums, including a Christmas record.
tsgabel 2 months ago
Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Ken Curtis a member of the Sons of the Pioneers? They recorded some beautiful songs.
MarkSpeck tsgabel 2 months ago
Yes, he was. And also sang for a time with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra.
harlow1313 2 months ago
None topped the great Soupy Sales, when he had all of us lads do "The Mouse."

"Hey, do the mouse, yeah
Hey, you can do it in your house yeah
On the rug, or on the wall
If your folks get bugged do it in the hall"

Words to live by.
TheDavBow3 2 months ago
Buffalo Springfield and Neil Diamond made cool appearances on the 1st season of Mannix. Paul Petersen and Shelley Fabares of "The Donna Reed Show" each made respectable showings on the music charts in the 1960s. As well as James Darren of "Time Tunnel" and Ed Ames of "Daniel Boone" are fine singers who hit the pop charts of the 60s and 70s. Heck, Rick Nelson! I'm sure there are more actors than you think who are great singers and even made the charts.
TheDavBow3 TheDavBow3 2 months ago
I know I got off on a non-western tangent 😊
MarkSpeck TheDavBow3 2 months ago
Love the Neil Diamond appearance...he's performing in a coffee house while Mannix and the bad guys are having a fist fight..."Hey, do you mind if I finish here?"
daDoctah 2 months ago
Amongst the television performances by Chad & Jeremy in the sixties (Dick Van Dyke Show, Batman, Patty Duke, and Jeremy without Chad on "My Three Sons") is an appearance on the western "Laredo" where they perform the song "In These Hard Times".

I also seem to recall Roger Miller (of "King of the Road" fame) putting in an appearance as Jonny Applseed on "Daniel Boone".
Robertp 2 months ago
Sorry, can’t forget Clint. He’s ok too. 😂
MarkSpeck Robertp 2 months ago
Clint did release an album on Cameo Records. A few years later, they cut an album on Ed McMahon.
Robertp 2 months ago
Another 👍 for Ken Curtis. Don’t know what else to say, just 👍
Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
Hoyt Axton had a great voice. He was also a successful songwriter. I love to hear him sing "Della and the Dealer". He was great on the "WKRP in Cincinnati" episode 'I Do, I Do... for Now'.
Barry22 Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
"Joy to the World, all the boys and girls" Three Dog Night one of all-time faves.
Peter_Falk_Fan Barry22 2 months ago
'Joy to the World' was the #1 song in 1971 according to Billboard magazine. Hoyt Axton wrote another Three Dog Night hit - 'Never Been to Spain'. They're one of my favorite groups. I still have their greatest hits album.
MarkSpeck Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
He also wrote "The Pusher", recorded by Three Dog Night's label mates, Steppenwolf. One college radio station here in Cleveland back in the day played that song with the 'G--damns' edited out and then would play all the 'G--damn' parts separately.
MarkSpeck Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
Hoyt's mother Estelle Axton co-founded the legendary Stax Records with Jim Stewart ('St' from Stewart plus 'Ax' from Axton=Stax).
MarkSpeck Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
Sorry...Estelle wasn't Hoyt's mother, but she was related to him somehow...maybe, his Aunt.
Moverfan Peter_Falk_Fan 2 months ago
Wonder if it's the same one I have. I knew Joy To The World before I bought it, but then I discovered One, Never Been To Spain, The Show Must Go On, Liar, Family Of Man...and don't get me started on Brickyard Blues! (Play something sweet, play something funky, just let me lay back and act like a monkey...)
Moody 2 months ago
What!? No Roy Rogers? Wasn't he the singing cowboy? Or was that Gene Autry? Do these millenials even know who they are?
stephaniestavr5 Moody 2 months ago
Yes, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans both sang. As you probably know, Dale wrote/co-wrote their show's closing song: "Happy Trails."
Gene Autry was known as The Singing Cowboy. He was also known as The Yodeling Cowboy.
It seems like these young whipper snappers need to have a lesson or two about Singing Cowboys. I agree with you, I don't think they "know who they are."
Barry22 Moody 2 months ago
Trigger put out a solo album also.
harlow1313 Moody 2 months ago
Well, everything gets swept into the dustbin of time. It can be no other way.

Down with generational tribalism.

It's that time of day, when I play my Slim Whitman records.

"Yodel-oh-ee-dee
Diddly-odel-oh-ee-dee-yodel-oh-dee"

That is high art.
MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
Ken Curtis had a nice singing voice.
MarkSpeck MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
He sang with both the Sons of the Pioneers and Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra, where he took over for some guy named Sinatra...whatever happened to him? ;)

Years later, as a result of his Gunsmoke success, he cut his own album for Capitol.
MrsPhilHarris MarkSpeck 2 months ago
I read he sang with Tommy Dorsey. Incredible.
Michael 2 months ago
I remember Lou Rawls for his "Natural Man" that was on the radio fifty years ago this year.

But he also played the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. I've heard the recording of him doing "Tobacco Road".

In 1971, there was "Zacharia", an electric western, the cast included Country Joe and the Fish.
stephaniestavr5 Michael 2 months ago
"Zachariah" also co-starred a pre-Miami Vice/Nash Bridges Don Johnson and a pre-Eight Is Enough Dick Van Patten. Both the trailer and the movie, (I think,) can still be viewed on You Tube.
MarkSpeck Michael 2 months ago
One of the two writers of "Natural Man" was comedian Sandy Baron, best-known as Jack Klompus on Seinfeld. The other writer was "Sunny" singer Bobby Hebb.
Michael MarkSpeck 2 months ago
The pen, and the cadillac episodes.

I never noticed who'd written the song.I

I do see that Sandy Baron was on "Hey Landlord", which I remember little about but did watch.

And he played Grampa in a later Munster movie
Michael stephaniestavr5 2 months ago
I saw Zachariah in a second run theatre about 1978. I remember little. But I found it on DVD some years back for ten dollars or less. I have yet to watch it, it sits next to Zardoz.
stephaniestavr5 Michael 2 months ago
Have you watched Zardoz? Interesting movie! So enjoyed seeing Sean Connery in the {practically} "all together!" He left almost nothing to the imagination! I was 13 when it came out in '74. I didn't see it until like you I had it on dvd. I no longer have it. When I moved, that was one of a # of dvds that didn't make the trip.
Dick Van Patten, He certainly had his presence in film and tv from 1949 on. Likeable actor.
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