Monday, September 3, 2012

Story Songs: El Paso

Westerns were popular in movies and television in the 1950s and '60s. Probably no song captured the spirit of the wild west than Marty Robbins's "El Paso."

The song was released in late '59, and reached No. 1 on the country and pop charts in '60. It's a bittersweet love story about a cowboy who falls for a Mexican dancer:

"Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Night time would find me in Rosa's cantina
Music would play and Feleena would whirl"

The narrator admits that he is probably asking for trouble, noting that Feleena's dark eyes were: 

"Evil and wicked while casting a spell."

But he was smitten:

"My love was deep for this Mexican maiden
I was in love, but in vain I could tell."

In a moment of jealous rage, he ends up killing another cowboy for flirting with the woman he loved. He had to flee El Paso to the New Mexico badlands, but love forced him to make a fatal return to see Feleena.

He is greeted by a posse on his return, but continues his fateful ride to Rosa's cantina:

"But my love for Feleena is strong
And I rise where I've fallen 
Though I am weary I can't stop to rest
I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest"

He finally reaches Feleena, who kisses him on the cheek as he lies mortally wounded in her arms:

"Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for
One little kiss and Feleena, goodbye."

When I was in the sixth grade at Campbellsville (Ky.) Elementary School, I participated in a skit during a talent show. I believe my classmate was Kenneth Graham. 

I still love to hear this song -- Robbins's great voice, the background harmony, and guitar work. Some versions include a horn, and along with the guitar, giving it a Tex-Mex feel.

The song earned Robbins a Grammy for Best Country & Western recording in 1961.  He died in 1982, at the age of 57, following heart surgery. 

Besides being an singer-songwriter, Robbins was active on the NASCAR circuit in the 1960s and '70s.

I've included a video of the Grateful Dead performing the song.

"El Paso" lyrics


  1. Thank you so much for such a wonderful memory. I enjoyed your post and the video.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I've always heard that Marty was a warm and friendly person. I think that comes through in the video.

  2. I enjoyed that song, although I have never heard the name Feleena.
    You make mention of someone that you were in a skit with. Wondering how that plays into this posting? Thank you.