Return to Idaho Songs Homepage




The Idaho Humanities Council announced the release of The Idaho Songbag, a CD of more than two dozen historically-based songs inspired by Idaho people, places, and events from the mid-19th century to the present. Performed by musicians as diverse as folk music icon Pete Seeger and Salmon River loner "Dugout Dick" Zimmerman, The Idaho Songbag features songs about mining, murder, labor disputes, politics, protests, and cowboy laments, and comes with an illustrated 72-page booklet of lyrics and stories behind the songs.

The CD selections are the work of Nampa resident and "song catcher" Gary Eller, who several years ago began traveling around the state, thanks to an IHC grant, to search archives large and small, scour the Internet, meet with musicians in public "song swaps," and gather recordings of musicians both well known and unknown who have either written original music or passed along old songs they've learned from others. The Idaho Songbag is a compilation of polished studio recordings, wax cylinder, reel-to-reel, and cassette recordings, and more recent field recordings of musicians performing songs in their kitchens and living rooms.   

"It's a work of historical preservation in the tradition of Alan Lomax to gather this sampler of music unique to Idaho," says Rick Ardinger, executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council. "It's a labor of love for Gary, who came to the IHC with a proposal to travel the state in search of Idaho's musical heritage -- and one song has led to another."

So far, Eller has gathered more than 1,000 songs.

Inspired by Idaho folksinger Rosalie Sorrels' songbook Way Out in Idaho (1991), published for Idaho's statehood centennial a generation ago, Eller met with Sorrels, recorded himself singing several songs from her long-out-of-print book, and found hundreds more obscure and little known songs he has recorded for the first time.     

"This is not a CD featuring Idaho 's best-known musicians," Eller says. "That's really not its purpose. With a couple of exceptions, most featured on The Idaho Songbag are not professional musicians. The project is about the content of some historically based songs you won't find elsewhere, not so much about who performs them."

Two exceptions are recordings by folk icon Pete Seeger, singing a song he wrote in the 1970s protesting further dam development in Hells Canyon, and beloved Idaho songwriter Pinto Bennett, who performs a song based on a story told to him by his own grandfather about a revenge-killing, Basque Country fugitive who settled near Mountain Home during the Great Depression.

The Idaho Songbag CD is available for $15 (plus $3 shipping and sales tax) through the Idaho Humanities Council website, by calling (208) 345-5346, or through select record stores.


LIST OF SONG TRACKS ON THE IDAHO SONGBAG (musicians in parentheses)

Audio tracks can be heard by clicking on highlighted tracks. Some other tracks can be heard via at Idaho Songs of the Month.

Details on the songs can be found at Annotated Bibliography of Early Idaho Songs

  1. Way Out in Idaho (Gary Eller, Rue Frisbee, Marv Quinton)
  2. Rainbow Stallion of the Owyhees (Ione Love Thielke and Mary Edmundson)
  3. Old Judge Duffy (Johnny Thomsen)
  4. El Vasco (Pinto Bennett, Bill Parsons, Brett Dewey)
  5. Away from Whiskey, Wild Women and Beer (1947, John Larsen and Gary Eller)
  6. Stump Rancher Blues (Bonnie Bliss and Stan Hall)
  7. Weiser Cowboy Song (Gary Eller, Rue Frisbee and Marv Quinton)
  8. Fort Limhi Camp Song (Marv Quinton)
  9. Bear Lake Monster (Gary Eller)
  10. Salmon River Dixie (Rob McIntyre, Bruce Alkire, Marv Quinton, Gary Eller)
  11. Lost River Desert (John Larsen)
  12. West of the Rockies Waltz (Rue and Dave Frisbee)
  13. Ballad of Lloyd Magruder (Jerry Grusell et. al.)
  14. Whoa Ida-ho Whoa (Bill Murray and Edison Male Quartette)
  15. Scatter My Ashes (Wayne Nelson)
  16. Give Me a Home Near the Capitol Dome (Gary Eller)
  17. Corrido to Wallace/Taylor Campaign (Abigail Alvarez)
  18. Frank Church Campaign Song No. 1 (Gary Eller)
  19. Frank Church Campaign Song No. 2 (Gary Eller)
  20. Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks (Earl Gleason)
  21. When the Mill Went Up the Spout (Gary Eller, Johnny Thomsen, Rick Ardinger, Rue Frisbee)
  22. Grave of Lizzie King (Gary Eller and Marv Quinton)
  23. Dammit (Stacy Gebhards)
  24. Salmon River Moon (Dugout Dick Zimmerman)
  25. Idaho Spud (198?, Johnny Thomsen)
  26. Old Hells Canyon/What’s a River For (Pete Seeger)
  27. Idaho (1885, Beth Wilson, Rue Frisbee, and Gary Eller)