"Running Bear" is a song written by J. P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper) sung most famously by Johnny Preston (August 18, 1939 – March 4, 2011) in 1959. Preston first sang the song in 1959 with background vocals by Richardson and George Jones, who did the Indian chanting of "UGO UGO" during the three verses, as well as the Indian war cries. It was #1 for three weeks in January 1960 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also reached #1 in the UK in 1960.
Richardson was a friend of Preston and offered "Running Bear" to him after hearing him perform in a club. Preston recorded the song at the Gold Star Studios in Houston, Texas, in 1958. The session's producer was Bill Hall with Preston on vocals and Link Davis on saxophone. Richardson, Hall, and Jones performed the song's Indian chants.
Preston was signed to Mercury Records, and "Running Bear" was released in August 1959, seven months after Richardson's death in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
About the song
The song tells the story of Running Bear, a "young Indian brave", and Little White Dove, an "Indian maid". The two are in love but are separated by two factors:
Their tribes' hatred of each other: they hail from tribes that are at war with each other. ("Their tribes fought with each other / So their love could never be.")
A raging river: this is a physical separation that also serves as a metaphor for their cultural separation.
The two, desiring to be together despite their obstacles and the risks of navigating the river, dive into the raging river to unite. After sharing a passionate kiss, they are pulled down by the swift current and drown. The lyrics describe their fate: "Now they'll always be together / In their happy hunting ground."