THIS CURIOSITY entered my life in late 1963 when I obtained a copy of the book, The Bandit of Hell's Bend by famed author, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs is best known as the creator of Tarzan and while he wrote about two dozen Tarzan novels, he was also the author of much more including science fiction, moody social melodramas, high adventure stories, historical fiction and westerns. The Bandit of Hell's Bend was one of the latter, a western containing a mysterious vigilante bandit, a ranch romance, chases, action, mistaken identities and many other standard western story plot elements. It was written in 1923 and first appeared in print in 1924, serialized in six weekly installments of the popular pulp fiction magazine Argosy All-Story Weekly, the same magazine that had first discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs a dozen years earlier in 1911 and published his first stories, A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, launching Burroughs' writing career and setting him on the road to fame and riches.
One of the characters in The Bandit of Hell's Bend was Texas Pete, a bit of a good natured ne'er-do-well who, in addition to being loyal to the story's hero, known simply as Bull, was also an inveterate balladeer. Throughout the story Texas Pete would recall verses of a nameless ballad and sing them. Collected together these eighteen verses comprise a story of dishonesty and revenge that culminated in a saloon shootout. As I read this little story in verse, a melody came to mind, the same melody in fact every time I read any part of it. Interestingly, this same melody occurred to my close friend and fellow Burroughs fan, Charly Kagay, whenever he too read verses from this poem. Both being musically inclined, in early 1966 we finally set this tune down to music. My dad, having been a semi-professional jazz pianist, afterwards helped us out further by arranging the song with a three part harmony. I quickly mastered the song and played it often on our family's piano.
Simultaneously, we had become such great Burroughs fans that in the years 1965 to 1968, Charly and I and other friends Chuck Pogue, Jerry Toner and Gary Schauer published our own fanzine (i.e., fan magazine), dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs called The Long Sword. Always in need of material for our magazine, it naturally occurred to us to print our song. Since it involved those verses from a song sung by a character in the novel The Bandit of Hell's Bend written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, we wanted to print those too. But, like everything Burroughs wrote, its copyright was closely held by the author's private holding company, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Incorporated, then managed by the author's son, Hulbert Burroughs. So with no little trepidation, I wrote to Hulbert Burroughs and asked for permission to reprint the verses as lyrics to our song. He replied soon after and not only graciously agreed to our request but said they would have to be copyrighted and that accordingly, we would all share in the copyright. Talk about thrilled! I was in seventh heaven...
The song's music appeared in the summer of 1966 in the third issue of our fanzine, The Long Sword. For lack of a better name, we called it "Texas Pete's Song". Later we learned that it was really a poem, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs for his novel, called "The Passing of My Pal Bill". Our little tune has since been reprinted in the Burroughs Bulletin #34, New Series, published by George McWhorter in the Spring of 1998 as well as elsewhere since. It's always a thrill to see it and read references to it.
Below is the sheet music for the song. Elsewhere it can be heard by pressing the red button.