This one is going to be a bit different for this article series. Usually when I pick a song I find a bunch of interesting information about the song’s history, how it did in charts, who has the more famous version, or some other cool bit of trivia I never knew before. Here’s everything I learned about the song “BIlly Bayou”.
Written in 1958 it was written by Roger Miller, with a cover by Jim Reeves, who once performed the song for the Boy Scouts and is the only cover I have any info for, as well as Charlie Pride, Doug Kershaw, and Burl Ives.
I know the Jim Reeves cover because my dad has a concert album on CD that is one of his regular CDs in the car. So when I travel with him…let’s just say I know this song rather well. The lyric video I found is from Reeves but isn’t a concert video.
I didn’t hear Kershaw’s version prior to this article but of the others I’d place Reeves’ version first, followed by Miller…but then again I’ve heard Reeves version so many times my brain may be a bit conditioned. The other two (Ives and Pride) just didn’t have the same impact for me.
The song presents a series of small stories, telling the history of Billy Bayou (not to be confused with Bayou Billy, the video game character so stop bringing those links up when I’m searching for song history, Google Chrome!) via a few snippets of his life. I wish I knew the origins of the song, if Billy was based on or at least inspired by an actual person but I can find zero history of this song beyond what you saw earlier and how well the Jim Reeves version did, which it turns out pretty well.
So how old is Billy? Well, he fought at Little Big Horn, which happened in 1876, and nearly bought it ticking off Geronimo by bragging he could beat the chief. Considering how that went for Custer and his army the fact that Billy made it to 1878. Taking part in the biggest butt kicking the Sioux and Cheyenne could give and then ticked off an Apache chief (not to be confused with the Superfriend)? I’m guessing not knowing when to run was his biggest problem before that pretty girl finally got him. Dude should have been long since dead. I do have to ask if Miller meant that he ticked off the actual Geronimo since before it became the battlecry of anyone jumping from a tall place, hopefully with a parachute, the name had been used at times for Native Americans in general, not quite the same as “Indian”, “Injun”, or “Red man” but it did pop up. However, the fact that he survived Little Big Horn makes me think he didn’t meet Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse. Of course, as any history buff will tell you after reading this paragraph, I’m no historian. I was actually looking up info as I went along and some of it came from Wikipedia, so don’t use me to research your history paper on the battle.
The song presents these stories with a light tone. It’s fun and tells a good story, like you’d tell around a campfire or something. I like it. It’s not a long narrative but it tells the story of a young man who made a few mistakes. We don’t really get to see the aftermath of any of them save ending up married despite the narrator warning him multiple times to watch what he says and a pretty girl might get him someday. However, I don’t think the narrator was actually being heard by the narrator because it doesn’t sound like he’s talking to Billy at the time. It’s just the chorus.
This is another example of how country music is good at telling stories. There aren’t many genres that are gifted in that field. Some can do so, but rap, hip-hop, and country seem to do it the best…which may be why they’ve been getting along so well lately.