Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Best Western Record Album

Nowadays, Country and Western songs are more about domestic issues (adultery, substance abuse, broken romances, depression, making ends meet, etc.).  Very seldom do you hear songs with Old West themes; songs that reflect the bygone days of trail herding cowboys, faithful horses, high noon gunfights, and loose barmaids.  You have to go back to the fifties and sixties to hear songs like that.  Western artists such as Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Marty Robbins have faded in public memory and musical tastes.  With the death of country legend Johnny Cash, Texas native Michael Martin Murphy is one of the very few C&W singers left to carry on the tradition. 
Without a doubt, the best of the Old West song albums is Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” produced by Columbia Records back in 1959.  One of the songs, “El Paso,” was a mega hit in 1960 and won the Grammy award for best C&W recording that same year.  Two versions were recorded: a popular five minute long version and a shorter three minute version to accommodate the radio stations.  The song tells the story of a cowboy in El Paso that guns down his rival for the affections of a Mexican girl named Feleena;  who whirls and dances in Rosa’s Cantina.  The cowboy gallops off to New Mexico to avoid arrest but returns later to see his beloved.  Upon his return, he is shot by a posse and dies in Feleena’s arms. 

Marty Robbins was born Martin David Robinson on September 26, 1925 in Glendale, Arizona.  One of ten children, Robbins was raised in a troubled household that included a struggling, alcoholic father.  His maternal grandfather, Texas Bob Heckle often told him stories about the American West which later inspired the lyrics for his songs.   At seventeen, he left home and joined the Navy.  While stationed in the Solomon Islands during World War II, Robbins learned to play the guitar and developed a talent for songwriting.  After his discharge in 1945, he played at local venues in Phoenix until he was discovered by C&W icon "Little Jimmie" Dickens (in his 90’s now and still at it).   Dickens got a recording contract for Robbins with Columbia Records.  From there, his career took off and he became a rhinestone-studded regular at the Grand Ole Opry.  He was also an accomplished NASCAR driver that drove in 35 races.  Due to complications from open heart surgery, Robbins suffered an untimely death in 1982 at the age of 57.  He was buried at Woodland Memorial Park in Nashville.  The Friends of Marty Robbins Museum in Robbins’ hometown of Glendale keep his memory alive. 

“El Paso” was his signature song.  With its Spanish guitar and the Glaser Brothers haunting, background harmonies, the song has a distinct Tex-Mex feel to it.  The University of Texas at El Paso made it their official fight song.  Some have argued that “El Paso” should be the state song of Texas, replacing the lame “Texas, Our Texas” which nobody knows the words to nor cares to learn for that matter.  The last time I heard a spirited rendition of “Texas, Our Texas” was on a Playskool record player in Mrs. Boone’s kindergarten class.  Personally, I prefer “The Yellow Rose of Texas” as a replacement, but I would keep “El Paso” on my short list.
Enjoy the attached video ! 
 Hey! I'm in a good mood. Here's a 1937 video of Sons of the Pioneers singing "Way Out There." Check out that yodelling.  Aah! The greatness of the Sons.   Nobody yodels like these guys.