As soon as the saloon-like piano kicks in during Charley Crockett’s “Welcome to Hard Times” music video, a vast, dramatic landscape stretches behind him.
Crockett is walking through a desert littered with Joshua trees and low brush, with snowy mountain peaks towering above him. And I knew exactly where he was, because I’d just driven through there twice in a 36-hour period, loaded up on Motrin with a barfing preschooler in the backseat.
Crockett was walking through the high desert near Highway 395, the epic road that stretches from Death Valley to Lake Tahoe along the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. With or without a barfing kid, it’s the most epic drive in California.
And Charley and director Bobby Cochran could not have picked a better landscape to film his lonely ballad about the unforgiving world.
It turns out Crockett and Cochran filmed quite a bit around Highway 395 as they built the classic Western feel of the “Welcome to Hard Times” album with some breathtaking visuals. You see a lot of the same scenery in “Run Horse Run” and, as Crockett told Texas Music Scene TV back in 2020, recreating the “spaghetti western” feel was part of the plan.
About “Run Horse Run,” Crockett said:
“It’s got that kind of psychedelic, spaghetti western type of thing… like the Sergio Leone westerns, like “The Dollars Trilogy,” “The Good the Bad and the Ugly,” with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef and those guys.
That sound, it kinda reinvented the way we view the American West, with Ennio Morricone writing the score and all that kinda stuff.”
Hundreds of those Westerns Crockett was talking about were filmed in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California, one of the towns on Highway 395.
The Museum of Western Film History located in town documents some of the history that Cochran and Crockett no doubt tapped into with their visits to the area.
The heroes in those films weathered the harsh environment with rugged individualism. And there may be no one more ruggedly individual in country music these days than Charley Crockett.
From a rough background living and performing on the streets to his commitment to defining his own sound, Crockett is a cowboy in the most John Wayne or Clint Eastwood way. So, when he’s walking through the same desert landscapes those film heroes did, singing about how the deck is stacked against us in “Welcome to Hard Times,” I believe him.
So, next time I’m driving down Highway 395 with a barfing kid in the backseat, I’ll look up at the snowy peaks above me, cue up some Charley Crockett, and let my mind drift to those old Westerns.
And maybe my “hard times” full of screaming and barfing kids won’t seem so hard.