Hi-Yo Silver: The Lone Ranger’s Long Connection to Pop Music
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The new Lone Ranger movie comes out this week — the first time that 80-year-old character has turned up in theaters in three decades or so — and so do two soundtrack albums, one of them the actual score from the movie (by Hans Zimmer) and the other a collection of songs that are “inspired by” the film but don’t necessarily appear in it: The Lone Ranger: Wanted. The first single released from it was a cover of Hank Williams‘ “Devil’s Train,” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

The original Lone Ranger radio series debuted in 1933, but the first time one of its catchphrases turned up in a popular song may have been “Hi-Yo Silver,” in 1938 –the first solo hit by Leonard Slye, formerly of the cowboy singing group Sons of the Pioneers, after he changed his performing name to Roy Rogers and became a film star in his own right. (The lyrics don’t actually mention the Lone Ranger by name, but it’s pretty clear who it’s about.)

In 1953, blues shouter Big Joe Turner recorded one of his most-covered songs, “Honey Hush”; its final refrain is just Turner yelling “Hi-yo, hi-yo Silver!” over and over. It became something of an early rock ‘n’ roll standard (mostly thanks to the monomaniacal cover of it by Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio in 1956). And its oddest appearance is probably the 1970 version by Fleetwood Mac on their Kiln House album, retitled “Hi Ho Silver,” and wrongly attributed to jazz pianist Fats Waller, who’d written a totally different song called “Honey Hush.”

Yet another song called “Hi-Yo Silver” appeared in 1958 — a rundown of the Lone Ranger’s origin, written as a theme song for the movie The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, a spinoff from the Lone Ranger TV series that had ended the year before.

At the beginning of 1963, a novelty record called “Lone Teen Ranger,” by Jerry Landis, scraped onto the very bottom of the pop charts — it appeared for one week, at position #97. Landis was never heard from again, at least under that name; several years later, he’d become much better known under his own name, Paul Simon.

But back to the Rock & Roll Trio’s version of “Honey Hush” for a moment. They’d released it as a single with “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” with the same minimalist guitar riff on both sides. In 1965, the Yardbirds, featuring guitarist Jeff Beck, recorded their own version of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio’s take on “Train Kept A-Rollin’”; they re-recorded it the next year, with rewritten lyrics, as “Stroll On” (that’s the version that appears in the movie Blow-Up). Shortly thereafter, Jeff Beck left the group, and one of his first solo singles, released in early 1967, was called “Hi Ho Silver Lining.”

The most awesome take on the Lone Ranger mythology, though, probably belongs to Oscar Brown Jr., whose sly Black Power-inspired single “The Lone Ranger” was a pop and R&B hit in 1974 (around the same time as Van Morrison‘s “Who Was That Masked Man”). The hook — “what you mean me, white man?” — is a Lone Ranger joke whose origins are lost to antiquity (it seems to have been around as early as the late ’50s, and maybe before).

Shortly thereafter, Johnny “Guitar” Watson had a minor R&B hit with his song “I Don’t Want to Be a Lone Ranger”; in 1976, the group Hidden Strength covered it and hit the R&B charts again.

Also in 1976, the British group Quantum Jump recorded their ridiculous sole (U.K.) hit, “The Lone Ranger” — a riff on the Ranger’s relationship with Tonto, with lyrics that are questionable for all kinds of reasons, the very least of which is that its introduction is a phrase from Maori rather than any Native American language. It didn’t chart at the time, but bizarrely became successful in 1979. Singer/keyboardist Rupert Hine went on to become a very successful producer, working on hits by the likes of Tina Turner, Howard Jones and Stevie Nicks.

Slick Rick‘s 1991 album The Ruler’s Back was famously banged out in a hell of a hurry before Rick had to start serving a five-year gig in prison. “Tonto,” like Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Lone Ranger,” is dedicated to the Ranger’s sidekick; it’s tasteless in lots of ways, too, but weirdly catchy.

Before this year, the Lone Ranger hadn’t shown up much in any of popular culture over the last couple of decades. The last notable song to mention him may have been the late George Jones‘ “The Lone Ranger,” on his confessional 1996 album I Lived to Tell It All. “I had more silver bullets last night than the Lone Ranger,” he sings, and you don’t doubt him for an instant.

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