51: Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

51: Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Story by Patsy Bruce

Song written by Ed and Patsy Bruce

Recorded by Ed Bruce, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, and others

I wrote “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with my husband, Ed Bruce. Ed started it on the way home from a recording session in Nashville in 1975. It actually started out to be “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Guitar Players,” which didn’t sound very commercial. By the time he got home, he had a verse and part of a chorus, but it lay around for a while and he could never finish it. So, one night we sat down together to work on it and we finished it that night.

If you listen to the lyrics closely, you can tell it’s really about being a musician. Ed recorded it, and then later it got pitched to Waylon while he was recording in Nashville. Willie just happened to be there, as he was on lots of things with Waylon. I was at lunch and I got a phone call from someone who I knew in the studio who said, “Waylon is cutting a song of yours.” I asked them which song, and this person said, “It’s ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.’” And the next thing I knew, Waylon had added Willie to the track. They made it sound live, but it was in the studio.

Ed saw them perform it in Memphis for the first time and I went to see them perform it in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at a retail convention, I believe. Since then, I’ve seen them sing it hundreds of times. These days, it’s always interesting to me to see the reaction to that song, because the song is older than most of the fans in the audience.

That was one of the first collaborations that Ed and I wrote together and we went on to write a few hundred songs after that. After a while, people forget that you wrote any other song, because you become so closely identified with one like that. You almost seem like a one-song wonder, even though you have this huge catalog.

It’s still one of my favorite songs, though, and it’s definitely one of my banker’s favorites! It’s been cut over 300 times, and there are tons of different parodies on it: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Ad Agency Men,” and “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Programmers.” We get requests like that all the time.

One of the most amazing things is that when the song turned 20 years old, I got calls from people wishing me and the song a happy birthday. Now that tells you something about the impact it had. A dean of one of the major law schools told me once that he was painting a building in Philadelphia the first time he heard it. He told me what day it was and what color he was painting the building. Tom Brokaw always said it was his favorite song, too.

One day, a lady stopped me in a Kroger store and asked me for an autograph. She had a pen but nothing to write on. She said, “My husband Leroy is just never going to believe I ran into you unless I take him an autograph,” Then she reached into her buggy and picked up a box of Kotex and asked me to sign it for her, and I did. Now that was a first.

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold.

They’d rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.

Lone Star belt buckles and old faded Levis,

And each night begins a new day.

If you don’t understand him, and he don’t die young,

He’ll prob’ly just ride away.

CHORUS:

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks.

Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

’Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone.

Even with someone they love.

Cowboys like smoky old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings,

Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night.

Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do,

Sometimes won’t know how to take him.

He ain’t wrong, he’s just different, but his pride won’t let him

Do things to make you think he’s right.

CHORUS

To purchase the original demo of this song,
go to www.countrysongdemos.com

More stories from our partners