‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings': Gillian Welch, David Rawlings Share Their Own Bittersweet Version [LISTEN]
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are sharing their own stirring rendition of "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings," the Oscar-nominated song they co-wrote for the 2018 feature film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Readers can press play above to hear the bittersweet ballad, delivered with haunting harmonies and set against a stripped-down string backdrop.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs directors Ethan and Joel Coen tasked singer-songwriters Welch and Rawlings with a specific order for "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings." As Welch tells Rolling Stone, "There was just a really basic conversation [with Joel Coen] ... He was like, 'Look, there’s the singing cowboy — he’s been around for a while. Now here comes the new guy. He’s cuter, he’s faster, and he sings better. He’s just better. It’s the new model. He’s coming for him.'"
Coen told the pair that he needed a song for the two cowboys to sing together while (spoiler alert!) the older cowboy was drifting off to Heaven after being shot. They took the assignment and got creative.
"Let me tell you, buddy / There's a faster gun / Comin' over yonder / When tomorrow comes / Let me tell you, buddy / That it won't be long / 'Til you find yourself singing / Your last cowboy song," the first verse starts, leading into a traditional cowboy chorus: "Yipee kay aye ay, when the roundup ends / Yipee kay aye ay, when the campfire dims / Yipee kay aye ay, he shouts and he sings / When a cowboy trades his spurs for wings."
“The more peculiar restraints you put upon a song, the more fun it is, so this was kind of a dream assignment,” Welch says in an interview with Variety. “And they didn’t tell us to do this, but if you’re writing a gunfight song between two singing cowboys, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to put some yodeling in?”
"When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" is nominated for Best Original Song at the 2019 Academy Awards. Welch and Rawlings -- who have made eight albums together, not to mention their solo projects and other musical undertakings -- will perform the song during the ceremony.
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