Album version

Rainey Williams' playground was the Mott Haven streets
Where he ran past melted candles and flower wreaths
Names and photos of young black faces
Whose death and blood consecrated these places

Raney's mother said, "Raney stay at my side
For you are my blessing, you are my pride
It's your love here that keeps my soul alive
I want you to come home from school and stay inside"

Raney'd do his work and put his books away
There was a channel showed a Western movie everyday
Lynette brought him home books on the black cowboys of the Oklahoma range
The Seminole scouts that fought the tribes of the Great Plains

Summer come and the days grew long
Raney always had his mother's smile to depend on
Along the street of stray bullets he made his way
To the warmth of her arms at the end of each day

Come the fall the rain flooded these homes
Here in Ezekiel's valley of dry bones
It fell hard and dark to the ground
It fell without a sound

Lynette took up with a man whose business was the boulevard
Whose smile was fixed in a face that was never off guard
In the pipes 'neath the kitchen sink his secrets are kept
In the day behind drawn curtains in Lynette's bedroom he slept

Then she got lost in the days
The smile Raney depended on dusted away
The arms that held him were no more his home
He lay at night his head pressed to her chest listening to the ghost in her bones

In the kitchen Raney slipped his hand between the pipes
From a brown bag pulled five hundred dollar bills and stuck it in his coat side
Stood in the dark at his mother's bed
Brushed her hair and kissed her eyes

In the twilight Raney walked to the station along streets of stone
Through Pennsylvania and Ohio his train drifted on
Through the small towns of Indiana the big train crept
As he lay his head back on the seat and slept

He awoke and the towns gave way to muddy fields of green
Corn and cotton and an endless nothing in between
Over the rutted hills of Oklahoma the red sun slipped and was gone
The moon rose and stripped the earth to its bone


BLACK COWBOYS is a song written by Bruce Springsteen and released on his 2005 album Devils & Dust. The above lyrics are for Bruce Springsteen's album version of BLACK COWBOYS as released in 2005.

Composition and Recording

BLACK COWBOYS was inspired by Jonathan Kozol's 1995 book Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (see the spoken intro for the live 03 Aug 2005 version). The book described the author's visits to the South Bronx of New York City, the poorest congressional district in the United States. The book focuses specifically on the Mott Haven neighborhood, named in the first line of BLACK COWBOYS as the protagonist's home.

On this track, Bruce Springsteen sings vocals and plays guitar, keyboards, and percussion, and is accompanied by Steve Jordan on percussion, Brendan O'Brien on bass, Nashvill String Machine on strings, and Brice Andrus, Donald Strand, Susan Welty, and Thomas Witte on horns.

The song seems to have been recorded solo around 1997, with additional instruments overdubbed in 2004.

Devils & Dust

Devils & Dust is Bruce Springsteen's thirteenth studio album. It was released on 26 Apr 2005 on Columbia Records. The album was recorded between 1996 and 2004 at Thrill Hill East (Springsteen's home studio in Rumson, NJ) and Thrill Hill West (Springsteen's home studio in Los Angeles, CA). Horns and some instrument overdubbing were recorded in 2004 at Southern Tracks in Atlanta, GA. Strings were recorded in 2004 at Masterfonics in Nashville, TN.

In an April 2005 New York Time article, Jon Pareles wrote that "Springsteen recorded nearly all of the [album's] songs in a few days, nearly a decade ago, sitting with his guitar in the living room of his farmhouse in New Jersey, doing just a take or two." This probably took place sometime in 1996 or 1997. It's very possible that many of the songs on the album are none other than the solo recordings from 1996 or 1997, with some additional instruments overdubbed in 2004.

ALL THE WAY HOME and LONG TIME COMIN' were produced by Brendan O'Brien, Bruce Springsteen, and Chuck Plotkin. The rest of the album was produced by Brendan O'Brien. All horn and string arrangements were done by Eddie Horst. BLACK COWBOYS, JESUS WAS AN ONLY SON, LEAH, and MATAMOROS BANKS were mixed by Toby Scott. The rest of the album was mixed by Brendan O'Brien. Toby Scott was the recording engineer at Thrill Hill East, Thrill Hill West, and Southern Tracks, and Nick Didia was the recording engineer at Southern Tracks and Masterphonics.

The album includes a bonus DVD featuring filmed acoustic performances of DEVILS & DUST, LONG TIME COMIN', RENO, ALL I'M THINKIN' ABOUT, and MATAMOROS BANKS, with spoken commentary on their writing and creation. They were filmed live by director Danny Clinch in February 2005 in New Jersey. The DVD also includes the full album in 5.1 surround sound and in 2-channel stereo, with lyrics to the songs accompanying the audio in a karaoke style.

Bruce Springsteen -- Devils & Dust
Bruce Springsteen -- Devils & Dust

Devils & Dust debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, becoming Springsteen's seventh number one album in the U.S. It also peaked at number one in several European countries including the UK. The album was nominated for two 2006 Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Long Form Music Video, but failed to win.

The album features 12 tracks and clocks at 50:55. It was issued on DualDisc, CD + DVD, and LP.

Other Official Releases

Other versions of BLACK COWBOYS were also officially released.

Bruce Springsteen -- Van Andel Arena, Michigan 2005
The live 03 Aug 2005 version of BLACK COWBOYS was released on the Van Andel Arena, Michigan 2005 official live download in 2018.

Live History

In preparation for the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour, BLACK COWBOYS was performed during one of the tour's two public warm-up rehearsal shows that took place in April 2005 in Asbury Park. The song was played solo on acoustic guitar. The song is also known to have been practiced during at least two of the private rehearsals that took place in March and April 2005 in Asbury Park prior to the tour's first leg.

  1. 10 Mar 2005 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ (private rehearsal)
  2. 20 Apr 2005 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ (private rehearsal)
  3. 21 Apr 2005 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ (public rehearsal)

BLACK COWBOYS was performed 16 times during the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour (72 dates, April to November 2005). On this tour, the song was played solo on acoustic guitar. The live 03 Aug 2005 version of BLACK COWBOYS was released on the Van Andel Arena, Michigan 2005 official live download in 2018.

  1. 25 Apr 2005 at Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI
  2. 02 May 2005 at Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, CA
  3. 14 May 2005 at Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA
  4. 15 May 2005 at Wolstein Center At Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH
  5. 17 May 2005 at Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
  6. 19 May 2005 at The Theater At Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ
  7. 20 May 2005 at Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
  8. 28 May 2005 at Royal Albert Hall, London, England
  9. 07 Jun 2005 at Datch Forum, Milan, Italy
  10. 13 Jun 2005 at Olympiahalle, Munich, Germany
  11. 25 Jun 2005 at Hovet, Stockholm, Sweden
  12. 18 Jul 2005 at HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY
  13. 03 Aug 2005 at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
  14. 06 Aug 2005 at Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO
  15. 10 Aug 2005 at Rose Garden Theater Of The Clouds, Portland, OR
  16. 30 Oct 2005 at TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA


As far as it's known, no artist has recorded and released Bruce Springsteen's BLACK COWBOYS.

Available Versions

List of available versions of BLACK COWBOYS on this website:

BLACK COWBOYS [Album version]
BLACK COWBOYS [Live 03 Aug 2005 version]

Page last updated: 11 Feb 2018