A song about my dog Ginger
Sixty five years ago this week (October 3, 1945) a 10-year-old boy named Elvis Presley performed in public for the first time when his principal entered him in a children’s singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. According to Peter Guralnick’s biography “Last Train to Memphis,” Elvis dressed up as a cowboy, stood on a chair to reach the microphone, and took fifth place in the competition. .
The song he sang was “Old Shep,” which had been written a few years earlier by the country artist Red Foley in memory of a dog from his boyhood. Presley would later record “Old Shep” in 1956, on his second album for RCA (it was the first recording on which he played piano).
Also in 1956, the Newbery prize for children’s fiction was won by Fred Gipson for his book “Old Yeller.” One year later “Old Yeller” was made into a movie, complete with a song that featured a dog barking in the chorus, and that made millions of people cry.
About a decade later the Byrds recorded “Old Blue” on the underrated “Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde” LP.
What’s the point? Only that songs about dogs – especially tributes to dearly departed dogs – have a proud place in the history of American music, from country to film soundtracks to rock.
I wasn’t even thinking about that five years ago when my beloved dog Ginger died. I was hurting in the worst way and I picked up my guitar and before I knew it I had made up a melody and written the words of a chorus.
I couldn’t get through it without weeping and that was the case for a few years. But this spring I made myself write the verses and I went into a studio with my friend Philip Stevenson, who is a brilliant engineer and bass player. I cut some raw tracks and he played bass. When it was time to sing I brought along my daughter Isabel, who was 7 years old when Ginger died.
The song is posted on here. After two records with the Vidalias, and more recently the Bourbon Dynasty, this is the most unpolished recording I have ever put out in public. But it might be the most powerful. Such is the bond between dogs and the people who love them.