Great song, but the lionized hero wasn't all that swell in real life as it turns out. No mention of his playing the mandolin either. Willa Cather published a poem about the outlaw minstrel in June of 1912. Paul Siebel expanded on the poem and created this song. Later it was performed by Waylon Jennings and Emmy Lou Harris. I like Bromberg's version. Here is Seibel's original treatment, you can hear the significant lyrical differences.
The old West, the old time,
The old wind singing through
The red, red grass a thousand miles,
And, Spanish Johnny, you!
He’d sit beside the water-ditch
When all his herd was in,
And never mind a child, but sing
To his mandolin.
The big stars, the blue night,
The moon-enchanted plain:
The olive man who never spoke,
But sang the songs of Spain.
His speech with men was wicked talk —
To hear it was a sin;
But those were golden things he said
To his mandolin.
The gold songs, the gold stars,
The world so golden then:
And the hand so tender to a child
Had killed so many men.
He died a hard death long ago
Before the Road came in;
The night before he swung, he sang
To his mandolin.
Johnny Spanish (1890 – July 29, 1919) was an American gangster who was a rival of former partner "Kid Dropper" Nathan Kaplan during a garment workers' strike which later become known as the Second Labor Sluggers War in 1919. He became involved in labor racketeering, holdups of saloons and other businesses, and murder before organizing his own gang.
Born in 1890 as John Weyler (or Wheiler), he claimed to be related to Valeriano Weyler, the last governor of Spanish-ruled Cuba. He became involved in labor racketeering and murder, allegedly involved in a killing at age seventeen, before organizing a crew of thugs allied with the Five Points Gang. Spanish soon became notorious for his daring holdups of saloons and other businesses, particularly in his robbery of a Norfolk Street saloon owned by Mersher the Strong Arm. Spanish, who had earlier boasted to return and rob the saloon at a certain time, appeared at the scheduled time, shooting up the bar and assaulting several customers who resisted, before making his escape.
In 1909, Spanish started working together with "Kid Dropper" Nathan Kaplan. The two soon had a falling out that culminated in a knife fight in the street; They fell out because of a dispute over Spanish's then girlfriend, engaging in a vicious street fight in which the Dropper nearly stabbed his rival to death. Once he recovered, Spanish began taking over control of the Kid Jigger's Lower East Side "stuss games", a variant of faro, who contemptuously dismissed the threats. However, during a particularly violent gunfight in one of his attempts to gain control over a particular gambling operation owned by Kid Jigger, an eight-year-old girl was killed. Forced to flee the city, he discovered, when he returned after several months, that his girlfriend had left him for Kaplan. Spanish abducted the woman, who was now pregnant, and drove to a marsh outside Maspeth, New York, where he tied her up against a tree and shot her in the abdomen several times. The woman was found alive several hours later, giving birth to her baby who had three fingers shot off.
Spanish was arrested and sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 1911; coincidentally around the same time Kaplan was arrested for robbery. After being released from prison in 1917 Spanish rejoined Kaplan, as well as several other former Five Point Gang members, working as "labor sluggers".
However Spanish and Kaplan soon began fighting again as the gang split into two separate factions, as each attempted to gain dominance over the New York's "labor slugging" operations. Johnny Spanish during this period became one of the biggest drug dealers in Manhattan, selling both cocaine and heroin. He was assisted by his brother Joseph, appropriately nicknamed, "Joey Spanish". Yet there was too much bad blood between Spanish and the Dropper for either of them to relax. Spanish was shot and killed while entering a Manhattan restaurant at 19 Second Avenue by three unidentified men on July 29, 1919. Charges were brought against Kaplan, who had been identified at the scene, but were later dropped. Kaplan was later shot and killed in August 1923.
More turbulent times then. Not that bad here yet.
Kosher Capones https://www.chicagojewishnews.com/2019/11/kosher-capones-a-new-book-looks-at-the-history-of-chicagos-jewish-gangsters/
My father grew up on the west side of Chicago. An enclave of working class people within which their were Irish, Jewish, Italian, German neighborhoods. Many of the kids my father grew up with were tough guys who grew up to be minor gangsters, or went to jail. Those who remained in the neighborhood stayed in that life. My father grew up with a guy named a Eddie Schlesinger who established a restaurant business in the neighborhood. It was a front for gambling and who knows what else. As a kid, I went there with my father and was allowed into the inner sanctum where a less than sophisticated operation (very uncinematic) comprised of maybe two guys and various hangers on sitting at a desk taking bets. The guy who Schlesinger was fronting for was a Jewish thug and low tier mafia connected guy named Lenny P=====. Also from the neighborhood. His real name was something like Lenny Horowitz or something comparably Jewish. My father, who never made money as the owner of a private detective agency was offered a comparable situation. Gangsters need a place to launder their money. Why my father never capitulated, I’ll never know. He never had money. When he died at 54, he left “bupkiss”. Nuthin’. My mother tried to sell the agency to a Chicago police lieutenant named Ronnie O’Hare who occasionally worked for my dad. She got nothing. She got squeezed out. Both O’Hare and Patrick wound up in jail. O’Hare for corruption, and Patrick turned on his gangster friends. My brother wrote an article a few years about Lenny P=====. My brother was a writer and theater critic for Chicago Magazine. I’m sure it exists online. One of my fathers childhood friends was Carl Foreman who went to Hollywood. He produced High Noon, Bridge over the River Kwai, and other movies. One more thing. I worked for an auction house in my late teens in Chicago. Owned by a guy named a Gerry P----, whose real business was Porches, Inc. He advertised to build porches, remodel homes. The actual business was financing the remodeling and reselling the note. I’m sure he didn’t own a hammer. He opened an auction house for what turned out to be nefarious activities. Money laundering. His silent partner was a real Mafia guy named Joey B=====. I swear that was his name. He was little but intimidating. He was authentic. An earner. The gallery ended with “Jewish lightning”. Arson for the insurance. In the same way crime movies are so widely popular, I gazed at Joey B----- with envy and admiration. One night, after an auction, about 11 pm, I saw him getting a blow job in the front seat of his Cadillac. That sealed it. Where do you sign up to be a gangster? But I didn’t. I got a job driving a cab instead. Small consolation for my higher ambition.
My dad was a pretty straight arrow. An immigrant from Palestine who came to this country in 1939, he was a whiz at math. He lived in Detroit and went to Wayne St. for a while, then after the war service, to UCLA where he became an accountant. At one point, soon after graduation as a CPA, he was approached with an offer. Would he like to manage the Thunderbird Hotel in Vegas, for a half a point. There was a vacancy you see, because the last accountant was doing a stretch in federal prison. A half a point was huge, over 500k a year in 1954 dollars but what good is the money if you end up dead and buried somewhere in the desert?
My dad passed on the offer and a friend from school ended up taking the job. Two years later a mobster put a gun to his temple and says "You are officially retired."
San Diego never had much of a mafia, to my chagrin. But my dad did sell a man named Matranga, who was as wise guy as we had around these parts, a house he built in the subdivision where I was born for cash around 1957. More than he had ever seen at that point in his young life.
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