Not the Same Old Song

What a pleasure to meet someone who rejects entirely the feeble notion of aging gracefully. David Guion is 84 – and fighting every minute of it.

“David isn’t senile; oh no, not at all,” says a friend and admirer. “He’s just wonderfully crotchety.” “I lived a long time ago,” Guion says. “I very much resent old age.”

David Guion staked his claim to fame early in life, which in fact was a long time ago. In 1906, at the age of 14, he sat down at the piano in his home in Ballinger in West Texas. Rolling through his head was a little song he’d heard Elijah the chuckwagon cook and some of the other ranch hands singing. They called it “The Buffalo Song.”He turned it into “Home on the Range.”

In 1918, with “Home on the Range” and an armload of other compositions, Guion set off for New York.

That was the beginning of good times for David Guion. “New York was a big friendly town then. I met everybody. Toscanini, Sousa, Lily Pons, the Barry-mores . . .” He reels off a string of some 20 golden names. “And everybody liked me. I was gullible. I talked differently. I was something fresh for them.”

There followed many other songs, piano and orchestral compositions, even comic opera tunes. “I’ve never worked,” he says. “Music has always been fun. And it’s simply a God-given talent, something that gives me pleasure.”

Hardly crotchety words. So what’s the fuss? Ah.

In 1947, the State of Kansas adopted “Home on the Range” as their state song. But rather than credit David Guion, Kansas proclaimed it the work of one of their own native poets, one Dr. Brewster Higley who had penned a little ditty in 1876 entitled “Western Home” in words that resembled those of “Home on the Range.” They claimed that Dr. Higley’s friend, Dan Kelley, had given it a tune even though they could produce no manuscript. And they called David Guion a musical thief. The battle is still being waged.

“It infuriates me,” says Guion. “My blood pressure rises every time anyone mentions ’Home on the Range.’ I never claimed to originate the song. The basic elements came from an old cowboy tune. In Arizona, it was called ’Arizona Home,’ in Colorado it was ’Colorado Home,’ in Texas it was ’The Buffalo Song.’ And they certainly didn’t start with Dr. Higley. It was a jerky, silly little song in 2/4 time the way the cowboys sang it. I didn’t even much like the song. Listen.”

He sits at his grand piano and bounces out a choppy little tune. “That’s ’The Buffalo Song,’ ” he says. “Now listen.” And, his voice gravelly but sure, he breaks into a slow, lilting, emotional rendition of “Home on the Range.” “Now if that is the same song as the first one,” he says, “then I’ll eat your hat. I made the song a classic and I’m proud of that. Damn those people in Kansas anyway.”

Guion now makes his home in Dallas, but not really by choice. For many years after leaving New York he lived happily on a large farm in the Pocono Mountains. What happened? “Damned government took it away from me. You’d best not get me started on the government. I hate their guts. They took my property, sent in the Army Corps of Engineers, chopped down the trees, and covered all that beautiful land with a stupid lake. That was under LBJ. I have no respect for him or any of the rest of them. Buncha liars. I don’t want to talk about it.”

So why Dallas? “My sister had a house here for me and so my family convinced me I should come back to Texas and live in Dallas. I think I’ve regretted it ever since. Everyone in Dallas is too busy. They don’t want to be disturbed. My name is known all over the world, but it’s probably less known in Dallas than anywhere else.”

One assumes he must still spend pleasurable hours at the piano. “No. I can’t play as I used to. Arthritis. I’m a perfectionist and if I hit a wrong note it embarrasses me forever. Then I get mad.”

Perhaps he is intrigued by some of the new music? “Rock and roll bores me. It’s monotonous and poorly written. Someday something good may come of it, but I doubt it. I can enjoy Johnny Cash, but he gets monotonous too.”

Then there’s a tiny, betraying smile for the young man listening to him. “I’m an old man now. I guess I’m just going to have to face it and accept it,” he says, none too gracefully.

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