The Grateful Dead, Raul Malo, Marty Robbins & Me with El Paso – Ultimate Western Ballad

The Way Out West Series No 2

Loyal readers of The Jukebox will recall my previous post in the, ‘Way Out West’ series which was themed around an unlikely friendship formed through a mutual love of, ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ (go straight there as soon as you finish this if you haven’t read it already!).

Ghost Riders was voted No 1 Western Song of all time by the Western Writers of America.

My friend Carl and I didn’t know that as we sang it into the tequila fuelled small hours back in those dim and distant days.

We just knew it was a great song and that singing it never grew old.

Finishing Ghost Riders the next song that floated to the tip of our tongues was always Marty Robbins immortal classic, ‘El Paso’.

This one has everything you could ever ask for in a Western Ballad.

A West Texas location.

A Mexican maiden with flashing eyes whom a young cowboy can’t resist even at the cost of his life.

A gunfight over this fatal maiden leaving a handsome young stranger dead on the floor.

A hurried escape in the night on a fast stolen horse to the badlands of New Mexico.

The fateful return to Rosa’s Cantina even though a posse and deadly bullets surely lie in wait. For, in truth, the attraction of love really is stronger than the fear of Death.

A deathbed reconciliation sealed with a tender kiss.

What more do you want!

Well you might want this ballad to be sung with swooping authority by its author and have him backed by ringing Spanish guitar licks which echo through the song like chimes of destiny.

Take it away Marty Robbins and Grady Martin!

Now some sources will tell you that Marty wrote this song in less than 5 minutes and some say it was the work of several months. You choose.

What is sure is that it was recorded on 7 April 1959 as part of an epic session which produced what will always be greatest Western Ballad collection as long as the wild West Texas Winds blow over the plains, ‘Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs’.

There was some nervousness at Columbia Records that at four and a half minutes El Paso might be too long for audiences to take in an era when many hit songs barely made three minutes. This was to underestimate the power of story.

For, once you’ve heard the ringing guitar intro and the first line … ‘Out in the West Texas town of El Paso I fell in love with a Mexican girl’ you’re hooked and wild horses couldn’t stop you from wondering what happens next!

Released in late October, ‘El Paso’ soon became one of those rare songs that wins universal affection.

By the dawn of the new decade it was Number One on both the Country and Pop Charts and lodged deep in the consciousness of several generations.

The story of the nameless Cowboy and his love for Faleena indelibly sung by Marty with the invaluable assistance of Bobby Sykes and Jim Glaser echoes through popular culture to this day.

Now, The Grateful Dead might have been the emblematic group of the 1960s, ‘Counter Culture’ but they were also young men who had grown up watching John Wayne, James Stewart and Randolph Scott heroically ride through the Western landscape winning the love of Grace Kelly or Maureen O’Hara (even if Katy Jurado got caught in the cross fire) as they brought summary justice to those lawless frontier towns.

The 1950s were, of course, the glory days of TV Westerns.

I’ll wager that Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir spent many an hour watching, ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Bonanza’ and that that out of sight of parents they considered themselves to be six shooting moody hombres not to be messed with.

Surely, this history and the lure of a long gripping ballad with room for plentiful six string stretch outs explains their devotion to, ‘El Paso’which they played many hundreds of themes over their fabled career.

Their version has a charm which never fails to engage me.

Western stories and Western lore do cast a spell like the eyes of Faleena.

There are few pleasures as reliable as settling down to watch a Western Movie or listen to a Western Ballad.

I caught the bug early.

When my Mum was out doing nursing night duty my Dad and I, entranced before the flickering 12 inch TV screen, would delight in the adventures of Rawhide’s Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates.

We agreed that Dad was perfect for the role of the mature Gil while I was a natural for the more youthful form of Rowdy.

Between us there were no situations we couldn’t handle.

I remember vividly that for my 6th Birthday my present was a wide brimmed Western hat with matching six guns, holster and spurs. Since those days I’ve been lucky enough to have been given some truly generous presents from those near and dear to me.

However, hand on heart, I have to say that no present has ever given me the sheer joy that receiving my six shooter set did!

Maybe it’s that memory that haloes the songs and the films as I watch and listen.

Maybe it’s the mythopoetic allure of The Western.

Maybe it’s because I’m one moody Hombre. One moody Hombre.

I feel inclined to emphasise the South of The Border aspect of the song now.

So, let’s swoon as the golden vocal tones of The Mavericks Raul Malo evoke those wild Texas days as the night falls all around Rosa’s Cantina.

Though we know the Cowboy’s love for Faleena is in vain, doomed, somehow as Raul glides through the verses we cling to the belief that maybe this time, this time, the two lovers will ride out into the sunset together.

Together.

And, in a Cantina, far away, Faleena’s eyes will flash as they whirl across the floor together.

And, as the music plays they will laugh as they remember those days in El Paso.

Notes :

Marty Robbins was a considerable songwriter as, ‘Big Iron’ and ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ (a live staple for Elvis) attest. He had 17 No 1 Country Chart Hits.

Grady Martin was a magnificent Guitarist whose splendid licks feature on Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ Brenda Lee’s ‘I’m Sorry’ and Ray Price’s ‘For The Good Times’ among scores of other Hits.

El Paso was produced by Don Law who also produced the epochal Robert Johnson Blues sessions in the 1930s as well as Bob Wills’ ‘San Antonio Rose’. That’s verstIlity!

Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs : Wooly Bully! Wooly Bully!

You gotta warm up. You gotta warm up.

Before you hit the stage and face your public.

Before you pace out those morning miles on your run.

So, before you walk out onto the stage you’ll need to prepare back stage and get those vocal chords ready for those tongue twisting soliloquies.

Kick off with breath relaxation then release that tense jaw!

Next move on to a brisk series of tongue and lip trills.

Then it’s time for the two octave scales followed by the kazoo buzz and some serious humming.

A final cool down and you’re ready to face your audience.

Similarly, before you set off to on your daily run you need to do some dynamic stretches.

Come on now! Hip Flexor stretch, Leg Flexor stretch, Leg Extensor stretch followed by a Plantar Flexor stretch before we finish up with a Hip Extensor stretch.

Now you’re good to go and ready to chase down Mo Farah.

And, before I write a new post here on The Jukebox I have my own warm up routine.

Twenty minutes of calming meditation.

Then I read Chekhov’s incomparable short story, ‘The Lady with the Dog’ followed by a favourite passage from Russell Hoban’s masterpiece novel, ‘Riddley Walker’:

‘O yes youwl want to think on that you don’t want your mouf to walk you where your feet dont want to go.’

And then, then, I launch into my final warm up exercise – what I term, ‘The Head Clearer’ when I sing and chant excerpts from some of the finest songs ever recorded.

It often goes something like this:

‘Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do’

‘Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie’

‘Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah, nah, nah nah …’

‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay’

Then picking up speed there are 3 exultant exclamations before I take up my seat at the keyboard.

The order is always the same:

‘Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang Ba ba ding a dong ding’

‘Awop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom!’

Always last and crucial to invoking my Writing Mojo is:

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

Wow! Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully!

I should have warned you; before you listen to Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs’ slice of Tex-Mex ambrosia it is always advisable to clear an extensive dance space in your home.

Otherwise, like me, on many an occasion, you may end up with broken lamps and twisted ankles!

Wooly Bully is simply irresistible.

No wonder it sold more than three million copies and was only denied the summit of The Billboard Hot 100 by the combined might of The Beach Boys (Help me, Rhonda) and The Supremes ( Back in My Arms Again).

Still it stayed on the chart for 18 weeks and wound up being Billboard’s record of the year and permanently lodged in the brain of anyone who ever heard it!

The hypnotic, just gotta dance now, sound born in, ‘Gun and Knife’ clubs like The Congo in Leesville and The Diplomat in Memphis was brilliantly captured by Producer/Engineer Stan Kessler at the Sam C Phillips Recordings Studio at 639 Madison Avenue Memphis in late 1964 for his own, tiny, XL label. It became an enormous hit once taken up by major label MGM.

Stan was a veteran of the Sun Records scene. He played bass on many a session for Jerry Lee, The Big O and Carl Perkins as well as writing the wonderful, ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ for Elvis himself.

Working with Sam’s pavlovian organ and The Pharoahs (David A Martin on bass, Jerry Patterson on drums, Ray Stinnett on guitar and Butch Gibson on sax) Stan produced a sound that was guaranteed to get dancers to their feet all over the globe whether it was a Honkytonk in Texas, a Bierkeller in Hamburg or The Cavern in Liverpool.

If you don’t cut a rug to this one you’ll have to get the T Shirt that says, ‘ Me – I’m L7, L7’. And, you don’t want that do ya!

Domingo ‘Sam’ Samudio, born in 1937, is a native Texan with Mexican heritage.

 

After high school, where he was in a band with Trini Lopez, he had six years in the US Navy, a spell on the road with a Circus and several semesters at Arlington State College.

Whatever else Sam did music was always there.

Sam was much taken with the 1956 Hollywood Biblical Epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’ which led to him naming his band, ‘The Pharoahs’. The Band was to go through several line ups with Sam the only constant.

The ubiquity of Wooly Bully on the radio and its immense sales gained Sam and the boys opening act status for Big Leaguers like The Beach Boys and James Brown.

On such tours they probably traveled on a regular bus rather than their own 1952 Packard Hearse!

Sam was a fine in person performer and he must have got those crowds really warmed up before the headliners came on.

Sam had a few more hits, including the top 5, ‘L’il Red Riding Hood’ before his career dipped in the era of psychedelia and ‘progressive’music.

But, canny listeners like Ry Cooder knew that Sam really had something – which led to a role in the creation of the soundtrack for the movie, ‘The Border’.

When he’s in the mood Sam can show that, without a doubt, he’s still got it!

In conclusion my considered opinion is that you should, right now, clear a space, and get you someone really to pull the wool with you.

Then press play on the live version below and go crazy!

‘Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro,
Wooly bully, wooly bully,
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully!’

‘Watch it now!’

 

 

Notes:

My favoured Sam compilation is, ‘Pharoahization’ on the Rhino label.

In 1971 Sam made a very worthwhile solo record, ‘Sam, Hard and Heavy’ for Atlantic which featured a stellar band including Duane Allman and Jim Dickinson.

A tribute record on Norton charmingly called, ‘Turban Renewal’ ┬áhas had more than a few spins here at Jukebox Central – especially the tracks by Ben Vaughan and Roy Loney.

Wooly Bully regularly crops up in movies wanting to establish a mid 60s atmosphere. I saw it feature just the other day in one of those Baseball movies made to make you cry, ‘The Rookie’.