Friends, the other evening as I was closing things down for the night here at the Vault, Rockford Jay happened to share a YouTube video for 1959’s “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. The Grammy Award winning tune that tells the story of a gunslinger who slays another cowboy over the affections of Feleena, a dancer at Rosa’s Cantina, and in turn is gunned down himself later by a posse when he attempts to return to her. The song was written by Robbins and was included on his October 1959 album entitled Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, released as a single the following month with “The Running Gun” featured on the B-Side.
I am sure that there are a lot of you Fallout: New Vegas fans out that remember hearing Robbins’ song “Big Iron” on your Pip-Boy 3000 courtesy of Radio New Vegas, Mojave Music Radio, and the Black Mountain Radio stations. I bring that up as that was one of the twelve songs featured on Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, along with “Cool Water”, which you might be familiar with if you’ve seen 2018’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Although that stunning soundtrack features a cover by the esteemed Tim Blake Nelson, who portrays the titular character of the film.
You might find it interesting that it has been said that Robbins named the character of Feleena after a friend of his in school, although I highly doubt that the future songwriter and singer had to ever slap leather in his youth. As a matter of fact Marty Robbins would go on to write two more songs focusing on the events of “El Paso”. Starting with 1966’s “Feleena (From El Paso)”, the songwriter tells the early life and tragic fate of the dancer at Rosa’s Cantina – spoiler – but she picks up the gun of her lover and kills herself. Although it would seem that the two are reunited of sorts, they can be said to wander the town forevermore as spirits – heard by the townsfolk but never seen.
With 1976’s “El Paso City”, the songwriter basically recaps the events of the first song as he is flying over the city, mentioning that he remembers hearing the tune long ago. As the song continues though it is revealed that he seems to be the reincarnated gunslinger, as he’s never been to the city but he knows the old paths that the cowboy traveled on. In addition to frequently hearing a voice calling him to El Paso City – with another voice warning him that he might find his death there.
While “El Paso” continues to be a popular song, it was back in 1980 for an NBC special entitled Comedy Is Not Pretty! that Steve Martin proved that the tune could be improved on by adding chimpanzees, an elephant, Shetland ponies, and an Orangutan.