Listen To This Now: Dogs, Okies, etc, or Download.
My name is Kelly and I’m an Oklahoman. In many ways, Oklahoma has never really progressed beyond the depression. With the excitement of the land runs, the fortunes made in the early oil business, and the entertainers who sold the country on the Oklahoma ideal like Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Pawnee Bill, and others, Oklahoma began statehood as a colorful and exciting place in the national mind.
Then the depression came and public opinion changed almost over night.
The economic and technological forces that pushed the folks west in attempt not to starve, affected every agricultural part of the country but for reasons unknown they all came to be known by the pejorative Okie.
I wrote this song after the birth of my first three children and the realities of providing for them gave me a few moments of abject terror. I wondered how desperate one would have to be to sell everything, pack up the kids, and make a hazardous trek half a continent away with little more than false hope and desperation as a guide. I’ve read accounts of Jim Crow like prohibitions posted on signs throughout the Southwest intended to separate “Okies” and other undesirables from the rest of society. I’ve enough time being a vagabond to understand that the world doesn’t really greet the poor traveler with open arms.
The original lyric contained some words which, while historically accurate, were hard to hear. These handful of words are hard enough to hear that I was concerned they’d render the rest of the song invisible. History and truth often aren’t pleasant or palatable. Because of these few words and their implications, I let the song alone for 12 years because I couldn’t come up with alternative lyrics which didn’t seem dishonest or lame.
Recently, I was listening to “Snow Day” by the woefully under-appreciated Trip Shakespeare and the term “vagabond” jumped out. That was the key for how to alter the lyrics slightly without losing anything and making it possible for me to perform in public without trouble. I came upon an idea for how to change the 3 or 4 difficult words in a way which didn’t seem stupid.
I’m happy with the result. Then, I’m my biggest fan so don’t listen to me.