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Ballad of Chet Wilson

Thief & Love album design

Ballad of Chet Wilson

The ninth track off the debut album, Thief & Loveis without a doubt my most shameless nod to Springsteen.  It’s also the only song I’ve ever written that any version of a band I’ve ever had begs me not to include in a setlist:)  Probably because it’s like 17 verses long.  In my defense – what ballad isn’t?!

I could probably show you exactly where I was in my Jeep Cherokee along a Pennsylvania turnpike when the line “Chet Wilson was a man by the law of the land back in 1857″ came into my head, and it was all pretty much downhill from there.  The story just kept unfolding; despite it’s breadth, I really didn’t have to wrestle this one to the ground.  As I said, just about everyone who’s played it with me live hates it, but I love the darn thing!

For me, the song is about learning to trust.  If you can get past all the raucous hollering, here’s a guy who makes it a habit to always sleep on his back, unwilling even to turn his back on the moon overhead.  That’s some pretty deep trust issues.  Then this girl comes into his life and turns his world upside down:)

There’s so much about this song that I love, but my favorite line is, “Everything floated in mid air, the dust from the diner hung like stars dancing in and out of time.”  At the time I was listening to a lot of Springsteen (shocker!), and there was one song that I remember being so struck by the imagery.  In particular, there was a scene in which the characters shared a kiss, but instead of telling me that they kissed, he was describing the sensation of the moment.  I wanted to incorporate something like that on this part of the storyline and that’s what came out.  It was a good moment for me as a songwriter.

But well beyond the lyrics is a very special memory that makes this particular song a personal stand-out on the album.  My lovely wife, Christine, for whom I wrote Believe Me, loved this song and especially the chorus.  So one day I told her that she should come to the studio and record vocals on the final chorus.  I knew this was a big ask because she’s very, very timid and conscientious about her singing.  But she met the request with tears of joy at being invited into something like that.  So she summoned all her bravery and dawned the headphones in front of myself and the engineer, and we all made a wonderful memory together.

christine studio

Ballad of Chet Wilson

© Wes Gow

Chet Wilson was a man by the law of the land
Back in 1857.
With a scar on his jaw, a slight limp in his left
He knew Mexico like the back of his hand

He rode a horse that was red with two colts on his hips
Their handles were made out of pearl.
He won them both with his hearts and emptied one in the chest
Of the man who said his sleeve held a card

Now Chet was a gun from the days he was young
He saw his daddy shot outside a saloon.
He followed the bastard who did it, used two hands on the trigger
And left him lying for the vultures to rot.

Sundown, sundown   
Always sleep with your back to the ground.   
Sundown, sundown   
Never turn your back on the moon.   

He swore in his vengeance not even a slim chance
He’d never be any queen’s pawn
You see, his dad was a lover, of more than his mother
The fair maidens who danced in his bottle

So he left Amarillo, crossed over the border
And found trouble never two steps behind
He’d leave the towns in a hurry; wave good-bye to a posse
Said “The bounty’s not a fair price for me!”


But there came a day like no other, in a one-horse diner
A day of reckoning he never thought he’d see
Selena came to his table, and held up his poster
It read “Wanted Dead or Alive”, she said, “I’ve waited a mighty long time!”

She threw off her apron, got the draw on Chet Wilson
Slapped him so hard in opened his scar
He stood in amazement, put his hand to his jaw
And said, “My God, she’s the queen of Mexico!”


Selena lowered her six gun then took a step closer
Chet was frozen by the fire in her eyes
Everything floated in mid air, the dust from the diner
Hung like stars dancing in and out of time

She said, “Senor I have waited to do what I just did
For many years but I knew it would come.
The first for my father, you killed as youngster
The kiss ‘cause he deserved what he got!”

Now come on Chet Wilson lift me onto your stallion
Let’s leave this town and head to the coast
We’ll build us a cottage sink our feet in the water
And live off coconuts and rum!
He said, Senorita come on!