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Gillian Welch and David Rawlings performed their song, “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings,” which was nominated for the “Best Original Song” Oscar, at the 91st Academy Awards. Watch it here. Welch and Rawlings wrote the song for the Coen brothers’ western tour de force “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and it was originally performed therein by dueling gunslingers Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson.
The Los Angeles Times recently spoke with Welch about the song, the pair’s collaboration with the Coen Brothers, and their nomination:
“David and I, we’re very insular,” said Welch, who lives these days in Nashville. “We don’t really work for anybody else. But when Joel calls me, what he’s basically saying is, ‘I’m making this piece of art, and I’m not gonna be able to finish it unless you contribute some of your art.’ Suddenly, what we do is needed. That does something in our hearts.”
Recently, Welch and Rawlings released their own version of the song on Acony Records, which they sing in their own haunting, inimitable style, invoking both the fatalism and penchant for yodeling of the classic cowboy songs. Stream and download “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” here.
She also spoke to Variety about her and Rawlings’ process writing the song:
“It was a pretty straightforward thing: ‘Well, we need a song for when two singing cowboys gun it out, and then they have to do a duet with one of ‘em dead. You think you can do that?’ ‘Yeah, I think we can do that’”… “The more peculiar restraints you put upon a song, the more fun it is, so this was kind of a dream assignment,” Welch says. “And they didn’t tell us to do this, but if you’re writing a gunfight song between two singing cowboys, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to put some yodeling in?”
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have recorded 8 studio albums and have lent their talents to countless fellow artists’ recordings. Their rich and remarkable careers span over twenty years, and they are pillars of the modern acoustic music world. Gillian Welch served as executive producer, as well as a performer, on the eight times platinum O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, for which she was awarded the Album of the Year GRAMMY Award. She was simultaneously nominated that year for her own Time (The Revelator) which Rolling Stone called one of the best albums of the 2000s. Additionally, 2011’s The Harrow and The Harvest was nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Engineered Album GRAMMYs. In recognition of their remarkable career, Welch and Rawlings were honored with the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2015, the Berklee American Masters Award in 2016, and Welch was awarded University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s prestigious Thomas Wolfe Prize in 2018, the first songwriter to ever receive the award.