The Red Sweeney Stumper or how a country western band taught me the meaning of Occam’s razor.


My first professional music job was with Red Sweeney and his Country Caravan.  I was the caravan, along with Red’s wife and a drummer.  I added rhythm guitar and we alternated on lead vocals.  I sang Waylon Jennings.  Red sang Johnny Cash and George Jones.  Red played electric guitar and his wife came every night dressed as a different country and western star: one night Loretta Lynn, the next Tammy Wynette or Dolly Parton, complete with wigs, hair-dos and whatever else.  We played four nights a week at the bars frequented by Polish farm workers along Route 47 in Hadley, Massachusetts.

I caravanned with Red for about two months until he stopped telling me where the next gig was.  At our only practice, though, Red taught me the meaning of Occam’s razor, the Law of Parsimony, which argues that “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

I suppose most country and western musicians have a solid grasp on Occam’s razor.  But, I never gave it much thought.  Until the one and only Country Caravan band rehearsal.

Red’s wife added the Tanya Tucker hit song San Antonio Stroll to her repertoire.  I got lost in the chord changes, so I asked my friend for help.  Armed with the correct chord progression, I suggested to Red that we might play it with the additional chords.  I demonstrated.

Red was wise, a willing musical mentor.  He said, “Well, sure, you can play it like that if you want to.  But, why play two chords where one will do?”

Occam’s razor.  The Red Sweeney Stumper.

Dan Hunter