Why do cowboys yodel?

Yodelling is a something I have always associated with the Alps, lederhosen, and the Swiss Miss Instant Coco girl, BUT there’s also the widely recognized cowboy yodelling tradition.

I know that there was a fairly significant immigration of Germans to Texas, Oklahoma, and those parts of the country, but there was probably a bigger German influence on Philadelphia and environs and there isn’t any yodelling tradition among insurance salesmen - what gives?

Because they don’t know the words. Thanks, I’m here all week!

It’s not that cowboys yodel, it’s that several extremely popular cowboy singers yodelled when cowboy music first began to become popular, as in radio/records. Once they had a foot in the door, they were part of the culture and just sort of stuck around.

Could it have something to do with the original purpose of Alpine yodeling — to be heard over long distances [sub](before the invention of CB radio)[/sub]?

I suspect that could have something to do with it. Here in Panama campesinos use a characteristic yodeling yelp to call to each other over distances, surely independent of Alpine and cowboy yodels.

Backing up Ethilrist, it looks like cowboy yodeling is a musical thing, not a communication thing:

Real life cowboys definitely did yodel. Several traditional cowboy songs were based on polkas, which, of course, were German and Swiss in origin. Traditional cowboy ballads were often based on centuries old folk songs from Ireland and England. These songs often had choruses that sounded somewhat like a yodel. Film cowboys like Roy Rogers and Sons of the Pioneers often exagerated the traditional yodelling, and yodelling became more identified with Western music. By the way, cowboys didn’t sing for fun, they sang to keep themselves awake on the long cattle drives and to keep themselves from getting so bored they shot each other. Most of the singing was around the campfire at night, instead of on the saddle like they show in films. At least they saved the guitar accompaniment for the campfire. Jimmie Rodgers was one of the most prominent yodellers of old time country, as was mentioned before. He wasn’t strictly a cowboy singer, but definitely recorded quite a bit of material in that style. You should definitely check out his records. They are some of the best old time country songs ever recorded, and were influential with many of the biggest names in the history of country music, such as Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Merle Haggard.

Well, anytime the New Grove Dictionary gets collaborated on a cowboy issue by a guy named the Bitterdrunk Kid, near as I reckon, pilgrim, the case is closed! :wink:

For collaborated, kindly read corroborated! Although it sounds like the Bitterdrunk Kid could have collaborated on that entry had they thought to ask.

Accidentally sittng on the saddle horn?

IIRC, Jimmie Rodgers was known as “The Singing Brakeman” and had more of railroad aura about him, but the points well taken. I’m familiar with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and, more recently, the Sons of the Pioneers, but the point of my OP was to find dig a little deeper into the cowboy/German/Alpine/Swiss connection.

Thanks for the info so far.

Standin’ on the corner
I didn’t mean no harm
A po-lice come and took me by the arm
Down in Memphis, the corner of Beale and Main
He said “Hey big boy, you better tell me your name.”
You’ll find my name on the back of my shirt
I’m a Tennessee hustler and I don’t have to work
Yodel-ahee, yodel-ahee, yodel-aye

-Blue Yodel Number 9 by Jimmie Rodgers

I remember in “Lonesome Dove” (the book, not the miniseries) it was stated that singing during the drive kept the cattle calmer. They had a pair of Irish cowboys watching the herd overnight and singing, and this was considered a great asset. They didn’t yodel, though. :wink:

I was at an Octoberfest in Fredericksburg, Texas, when I, too, thought about the connection between German/Alpine yodelling and cowboy yodelling. After Texas Independence and before the Civil War, Germans were the number one ethnic group in Texas (Mexicans were persona non grata, even the ones who fought for Texas, and the numbers shrank.) Fredericksburg had German speaking schools up until WW2. The Hill Country around Fredericksburg (and from Dallas to San Antonio and east to Austin) is practically worthless for farming so cattle raising was the biggest employer. So the combination of a strong German influence in one of the seminal areas of the cowboy culture leaves me to believe that cowboy yodelling grew out of German yodelling. Besides, could something that stupid sounding have been independently invented twice?