On This Day: Marty Robbins Records Epic Cowboy Ballad ‘El Paso’ in 1959

by Jim Casey

Marty Robbins recorded his epic cowboy ballad, “El Paso,” on April 7, 1959, in Nashville.

Marty Robbins turned his love of the Old West into country music’s quintessential cowboy ballad when he recorded his signature hit, “El Paso.” The Arizona native was inspired to write the gunfighter ballad after driving through the desert city of El Paso, Texas, on several occasions.

The story-song revolves around a cowboy in the Old West who falls in love with a young dancer named Feleena at Rose’s Cantina. The cowboy guns down a rival who makes advances on Feleena, then he flees El Paso for fear of revenge. Ultimately, the young cowboy is gunned down by a posse, but takes solace while dying in Feleena’s arms after “one little kiss.”

Marty’s ‘El Paso’ Reaches the Top

Marty Robbins had scored a handful of No. 1 hits by the time he recorded “El Paso” in 1959, including “I’ll Go On Alone,” “Singing the Blues,” “A White Sport Coat,” and more. However, he scored his signature hit with “El Paso”. He recorded the song at the Bradley Film & Recording Studio in Nashville on April 7, 1959.

Marty’s band member Bobby Sykes recalled the recording session in the 1990 book Marty Robbins: Fast Cars and Country Music by Barbara J. Pruett.

“We did three takes on ‘El Paso’ and [Marty’s producer] Don Law said, ‘Marty, I think that’s pretty good, but we can do it over if you want to.’ But Marty said that was as good as he could make it and he wanted to keep it,” said Bobby. “It’s one of the great classics of all time.”

Featured on Marty’s 1959 album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs,” “El Paso” reached No. 1 on both the country and pop charts. The song also earned Marty his first Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance in 1961. “El Paso” stayed on the charts for 26 weeks, making it one of the biggest smashes of 1959 and 1960.