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Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys

Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys were the first nationally famous cowboy band, and the first cowboy band to appear on the cover of Billboard (June 6, 1931).

Formed in Ripley, Oklahoma in the early 1920s, the band was first known as McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band, for the leader, Billy McGinty, a well-known cowboy, former Rough Rider, and World Championship Rider with Buffalo Bill's show.

The band members were authentic cowboys from ranches in and around Ripley. Their first promoter, George Youngblood, introduced them saying, "I wish to say of this bunch of cowboys that they are not only good fiddlers, but can ride or rope anything that has horns, hide or hair." After McGinty left to become the post master at Ripley, Otto Gray (1884-1967), took over as bandleader as well as manager. With the extensive traveling generated from their popularity, the original band member dropped out to stay with their jobs and families. Gray filled their places with professional musicians willing to spend most of their time on the road.

Playing on the vaudeville circuits in the Midwest and Northeast, and nationwide over some 130 radio stations, they played the first cowboy music most Americans outside of the West had ever heard.

One of their most popular tunes was "Midnight Special'', performed by member Dave "Pistol Pete" Cutrell; Cutrell's "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special" with McGinty's band was also the first version of "Midnight Special" ever recorded.

The band lasted until the early 1930s when economic situations led them to disband.

Selected Discography

Original recording dates.
Recording Date Matrix No. Title Record Label
May 1926 9650-1 "Pistol Pete's Midnight Special" OKeh 45057
May 1926 9648-A "Cow Boy's Dream" OKeh 45057
January 17, 1928 13365-A "It Can't Be Done" Gennett 6376
January 17, 1928 13366 "Adam And Eve" Gennett 6376
January 17, 1928 13367 "Lone Prairie" Gennett unissued
January 28, 1928 13409 "Bury Me On The Lone Prairie" Gennett 6405
January 28, 1928 13411 "Drunkards Lone Child" Gennett 6405
September 17, 1928 C-2320 "Tom Cat Blues" Vocalion 5267
September 17, 1928 C-2319 "Coon Hunt" Vocalion 5267
March 12 or 13, 1929 C-3110 "I Can't Change It" Vocalion 5337
March 12 or 13, 1929 C-3111 "Midnight Special" Vocalion 5337
February 16, 1931 E-35856 "Who Stole The Lock On The Henhouse Door" Melotone M12182
February 16, 1931 E-35860 "4000 Years Ago" Melotone M12182



  • Chlouber, Carla. "Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys: The Country's First Commercial Western Band". Chronicles of Oklahoma, (Winter, 1997-98) 75:4 356-383.
  • Cohen, Norm. Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. University of Illinois Press (2nd ed), 2000. ISBN 0252068815
  • Kite, Steve. "Billy McGinty & His Cowboy Band Take to the Air" (transcription) Oklahoma Audio Almanac. Oklahoma State University, May 9, 2001.
  • McRill, Leslie A. "Music in Oklahoma by the Billy McGinty Cowboy Band" Chronicles of Oklahoma, (Spring, 1960) 38:1 66-74.
  • Otto Gray's Oklahoma Cowboys. Early Cowboy Band. British Archive of Country Music, CD D 139, 2006.
  • Russell, Tony. Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195139895
  • Shirley, Glenn "Daddy of the Cowboy Bands Oklahoma Today (Fall 1959), 9:4 6-7, 29.
  • Wolfe, Charles K. and James E. Akenson (eds). Women of Country Music: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky, 2003. ISBN 0813122805

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