9/8/19 Square Dancing Buffaloes

The history of square dance, by the Country Dance & Song Society: https://www.cdss.org/56-how-to/square/square-general/63-history-of-square-dance

The Square Dance History Project: http://squaredancehistory.org/

Despite all this history, I can’t think of too many good examples of square dancing in modern country music, other than the legendary Opry Square Dancers. Keep in mind the “barn dance” history of the Grand Ole Opry: https://www.opry.com/history

In 1952, Ralph Sloan and the Tennessee Travelers square dancers began playing the Opry. Ralph’s brother Melvin continued the tradition in 1980, then the Opry took over management of the rebranded “Opry Square Dancers” after Melvin’s retirement in 2002. I will attend Marty Stuart’s “artist in residence” at the Country Music Hall of Fame September 18th, and the Opry Square Dancers will be among his guests. In fact, the last time I saw the Opry Square Dancers was last year at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium.

On my “Hip Hop Meets Country Plus” YouTube list, there are square dance-themed songs by such acts as Eminem and Sir Mix-a-Lot. It’s surprisingly more challenging to find such prominent examples of square dance influences in modern country, even from “country traditionalists.”

Let’s begin our buffalo story in 1844 with the publishing of “Buffalo Gal” http://www.balladofamerica.com/music/indexes/songs/buffalogal/index.htm

There were all sorts of variants. I haven’t located the Hilltop Boys version mentioned in this article, but I’m curious to learn more about it: https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/198306/malcolm-mclaren-65202

The 1941 square dance recording by Carson Robison is perhaps similar, as it was called “Buffalo Boy Go ‘Round The Outside.” https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1213538

Carson Robison is one of the most underappreciated of all early country music figures: http://nashvillesongwritersfoundation.com/Site/inductee?entry_id=4117

“With a continuous studio career from 1924 to 1956, Carson J. Robison is probably the most recorded singer-songwriter in country music history.”

This wasn’t any sort of “hit,” as far as I can tell: https://youtu.be/7nlgRkGyT9o

Fast forward to the early days of hip hop and also the music video era. MTV launched on August 1,1981. “Rapper’s Delight” was released September 16,1979 and is generally considered the first big breakthrough hip hop hit. So, hip hop was just getting big, then MTV came along and the “dance culture” of hip hop was a great fit for the music video format.

Malcolm McLaren is an unlikely figure to appear here. The Englishman was known largely for being the manager of punk band The Sex Pistols: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Malcolm-McLaren

As a bizarre aside, there was a famous marquee in Dallas in 1978 when the Sex Pistols and Merle Haggard were playing the same week https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2018/01/09/the-sex-pistols-came-to-dallas-40-years-ago-this-week-and-bled-all-over-the-snow/

Malcolm McLaren’s unusual 1982 hip hop take on “Buffalo Gals” proved to be popular. https://youtu.be/HCBN7lyLT4w

Less known is the traditional version B-side: https://youtu.be/qsV_542kOx0


Keep in mind how new and fresh hip hop and MTV were in 1982. It’s no surprise that even bigger things were in store, as one huge hip hop artist after another sampled McLaren’s hip hop take on a square dance tune.

In 1988, Neneh Cherry had a major hit called “Buffalo Stance,” which sampled McLaren. In 1989, Neneh Cherry and Malcolm McLaren collaborated for a “Buffalo Mix” https://youtu.be/zwbrJDGgu64

In 2002, Eminem’s tremendously successful “Without Me” also draws from McLaren with “two trailer park girls go ’round the outside.” https://youtu.be/YVkUvmDQ3HY

The same 2002 Eminem album included an Eminem original called “Square Dance” https://youtu.be/6JX8j3vwrIA

Sometimes, country music history is preserved in ways one wouldn’t expect.

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