"A Gentleman in Hell" Characters

If Doc Holliday had a Song What Would it Be?

Writing a novel based on real history and real people is difficult. The problem with history books is they can be a bit dry. I wanted to make my characters human and really breathe some life into them. My solution was music. There’s a song for just about every human emotion out there. Someone has broken up with their girlfriend?  There’s a song about that. Feeling like an outsider? There’s a song about that too. Your best friend has just taken you on a bloody vendetta? OK, perhaps not that one but you get the idea.

There were certain songs that were an obvious fit for Doc’s life because the lyrics fit well while others are just more emotional or atmospheric. I like to imagine each character singing their song. It’s funny in some ways and in others it helps to take the characters into new directions. I’ll listen to a piece of music and get a feeling that it fits or doesn’t.

As far as Doc Holliday’s songs go a lot of the singers have a bit of a growl to their voice or are a bit husky. I just imagined that Doc might sing that way due to his Tuberculosis. The first song that became Doc’s was Whitesnake’s “Here I go Again”. It popped into my head as soon as I began thinking about Doc’s character. I really like the determination in the song. I could imagine some elements of the lyrics translating into a Southern accent. “Well I don’t know where I’m going but I sure know where I’ve been.”

I then looked for an educated and pompous element, “Big Log” by Robert Plant fits well. It’s poetic but perhaps a bit over the top. I like it because it’s about the constant drive to travel on through life, which I think is Doc in a nutshell. He was always looking to the next poker game down the road.

“Always Lift Him Up” by Ry Cooder is a traditional folk song that’s a no brainer. Apart from the old feel of the lyrics, it just seemed to fit Doc perfectly. “If he gambles when he’s in the town or city tell him what he ought to do to gain the crown…”

Other songs that became Doc Holliday songs are more story oriented than character driven. “Rain on the Scarecrow” by John Mellencamp makes me think about Doc’s experiences as a teenager in the aftermath of the Civil War. “My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen also sums up this period in Doc’s life. You do have to make some allowances as the lyrics are not going to be 100% accurate. I think though, in a weird way, it does encompass some of the era post Civil War before Doc moved away from Georgia. I especially like the last verse that suggests that Doc was thinking about going back to Georgia with Kate. “Tunnel of Love” by Dire Straits is an unusual choice. For me it’s a nice metaphor for the gambling attractions in a place like Dodge City. I like to imagine it being like a fairground. There was more than just poker, saloon owners worked out all kinds of ways to part the clientele from their hard earned cash. “Hey mister, give me two, give me two, ‘cause any two can play.”

Bear with me for a second but The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is Doc’s death song. I know that some of the lyrics are a bit of a stretch, but I love the line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.” I think that poor Doc didn’t have much of a choice in that matter.

An album that really helped me with the books is “The Black Rider” by Tom Waits. I can’t say that any one song belongs to a character but it did help me to think about what it would have been like to be a gunfighter. There was a danger of a less adept person getting drawn into a gunfight.

Turning to Wyatt, I have to say that “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty is his theme tune. It’s Wyatt in a nutshell. I think more than any of the Earps, that Wyatt was determined and perhaps stubborn. In some regards, this is an admirable trait for anyone trying to unarm a drunken cowboy, but I think in other ways, it took its toll. “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits is about Morgan Earp’s death. “Let me bid you farewell, every man has to die. But it’s written in the starlight and every line in your palm. We’re fools to make war on our brothers in arms.” I like “Local Hero” by Bruce Springsteen because it makes fun of the idea of being a living legend. I think Wyatt did milk his own legend if only to help create a living for himself in his old age. He and Bat Masterson would both buy pistols only to sell them on at a huge profit and say “I owned this gun”. There must be hundreds of guns out there that were ‘owned’ by Wyatt. I’m sure that was his way of having a pension. “A Long December” by The Counting Crows for me is about Wyatt’s last year or even days living in California. I like to think of him being old and getting ready to die but still taking the time to notice women. “All at once you look across a crowded room to see the way that light attaches to a girl.”

Unfortunately, the cowboy gang never earned many songs. I don’t know why, perhaps because at the time I was writing there wasn’t much written from the cowboy perspective. One song that came to mind for me though was “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. I love the haunting opening of the song, it sounds like an old piano in a saloon. The lyrics of “The Unforgiven” make me think about Ike Clanton in particular. He had to step into his father’s shoes and had to take over all aspects of the cowboy ‘business’ the good and the bad. I think after his father’s death, the pressure of this put Ike into a bit of a tail spin, aspects of which led him into the gunfight.

By the time I finished writing the books I had a really long playlist of music. I mean really long. I’m not going to give you the whole list but I can perhaps give you a little taste. I hope you have fun listening to some of the songs and imagining Doc or Wyatt singing them. I’m still adding songs to the list. I will hear a song and think that belongs to this character or another.

What follows is a full list of songs as they stand at the moment.

Doc Holliday

Doc’s Relationship with Big Nose Kate

Wyatt Earp

The Cowboys

The Gunfight at the OK Corral

By Elena Sandidge

Elena Sandidge is a Scottish novelist with a passion for the history of the Old West and the life of the legendary gunfighting dentist, Doc Holliday. "A Gentleman in Hell" chronicles the adventures of Doc Holliday as he travels from Dodge City, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona and on to his final home in the mountains of Colorado

6 replies on “If Doc Holliday had a Song What Would it Be?”

Wow, what a list of good music, only 2 I never heard of and 6 I do not own. I should reread the books with this playlist 🙂
I would probably add “Resonate” or “One for the Trail” by Grace and Tony, and considering Doc’s drinking I would add “Liquor” by ZZ Top, and also their “Mexican Blackbird” for Kate, though she is not Mexican it does fit.
And for the third book I would add “Hunting Song” by Korpiklaani, for the battle that ends up with Ringo dead (at least in the Tombstone movie) or maybe the song Pellonpekko.
Well, I add those to my playlist for the songs I miss on your list.

Oh that’s cool, I’m glad you enjoyed the music. Thank you for suggesting Grace and Tony, I had never heard of their music before. I like both of the songs you mentioned so I’ll definitely have to listen to more. 🙂

There is a song by the Group Volbeat, named after Doc Holiday, on their album entitled “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies”. The song more encapsulates his dangerous and more outlaw-like tendencies, as well as his gunfight at the O.K. Corall

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