'My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys': The Woman Behind the Willie & Waylon Classic

When you think of songs about outlaws, the wild west, cowboys, and western songs, you hardly think about women. But did you know that "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" was written by a woman named Sharon Vaughn?

Vaughn was told to "go home and write a cowboy song." And she did. It took her seventeen minutes to write the hit song from start to finish.

Vaughn grew up on a ranch in Florida and was in love with cowboys and Roy Rogers. Her inspiration for the song kind of stemmed from that love she knew as a child. In an interview with the Nashville Songwriter's Association, Sharon recalls the ranch hand she loved as a young girl, "There was one in particular who used to break the yearlings for us. His name was Arley. He was this lanky, silent, non-communicative guy, but he'd ride round and round in circles. I'd sit on the fence with my feet tucked under the rail, and I'd say to myself, "Arley, please talk to me." He never said one word."

Her memories of the ranch and her current circumstance in Nashville married together when writing the song.

"People were starting to feel itchy about being stuck in a [songwriting] format," Vaughn said. "You could just feel it. It was kind of like the outlaw mentality and my love for cowboys, [who] embody that mentality."

Of course, when Vaugh wrote the song, the outlaw movement in Nashville hadn't started yet.

Vaughn had just recorded a song called "Back in the Country," written by W. Jennings and Troy Seals. She thought to herself "Wouldn't it be great if I go by Waylon's [Waylon Jennings] office, since he wrote the song, and play him my record?"

She walked into Waylon's office and played her recording of his song that she cut. Waylon told her "That was nice, Sharon, but I didn't write it. That's Will Jennings." She shrunk down to her guts but didn't let her own embarrassment stop her, she said, "Well, while I'm here," and before he could say no, she ran out to my car, grabbed her reel-to-reel demo of herself singing 'My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys' and slid it across his desk and said, "I wrote this just for you." (Which was a lie.)

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Waylon put the song on and listened to the first verse and spun around in his chair and said, "Who wrote this?" Vaughn told him "I did." He did this about four or five times until Vaughn got so irritated that she firmly said back, "I wrote the song!"

He picked up the phone and called his buddy Jack Clement from Texas to head his way because he had a song to record. The song was released as the lead track on the 1976 classic album Wanted! The Outlaws, the album that started the outlaw movement in country music.

Willie Nelson released his version of the song on his 1980 record The Electric Horseman. The song was Nelson's fifth No. 1 hit and stayed on the charts for fourteen weeks.

In 1991, the western drama film My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys starring Scott Glenn as H.D. Dalton, Kate Capshaw as Jolie Meadows, Balthazar Getty as Jud Meadows, Ben Johnson as Jesse Dalton, Gary Busey as Clint Hornby, Tess Harper as Cheryl Dalton-Hornby, Mickey Rooney as Junior, and Clarence Williams III as Deputy Sheriff Virgil was released. The movie, which was inspired by Vaughn's song,  was directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

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