EML’s Favorite Songs – MARTY ROBBINS: “El Paso”

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I’ve always liked songs with great stories, and no music genre excels at storytelling more than Country. One of the best story songs of all time has to be the haunting ballad “El Paso” by Country legend Marty Robbins. My parents had his greatest hits album, so as a young kid I heard a lot of Marty Robbins. Born Martin David Robinson in the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Glendale, he was one of the most popular artists of what back then was called ‘Country and Western’ music. In addition to his singing career, he also acted in several films and was a successful race car driver, competing in 35 NASCAR national races, with six top 10 finishes.

“El Paso” was written by Robbins, and tells the story of a guy who meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman named Felina in an El Paso cantina. Even though she resists his advances, he becomes jealous when another guy hits on her, and challenges him to a duel, ending up shooting and killing the man. He flees for his life, but can’t stop thinking about Felina. And so, despite the danger, he decides to return to El Paso to see her, only to be shot and killed by cowboys on the lookout. The song was released in October 1959 and shot (no pun intended) to the top of both the Billboard Country and Pop charts in early 1960. It went on to win a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording in 1961, and remains Robbins’ biggest hit and best-known song.

It’s considered one of the greatest Country music classics for its gripping narrative that ends in the death of its protagonist, Robbins’ beautiful vocals, as well as the sublime backing harmonies by Bobby Sykes and Jim Glaser, and the distinctive Spanish guitar accompaniment by Grady Martin that gives the song a Tex-Mex feel (having grown up in Arizona, Robbins was fond of Mexican music, and wanted the flavor of a Mexican guitar used in the song).

The song runs well over four minutes, far longer than most singles played on the radio at the time, which generally ran 2:30-3 minutes. Robbins’ label Columbia Records was unsure whether radio stations would play it, so released a shorter, three-minute-long version which obviously omitted quite a few lyrics. Most of the record-buying public, however, as well as most DJs, overwhelmingly preferred the full-length version. An interesting aspect of the song is that it has no chorus, but rather one stanza following the next as the saga unfolds.

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Nighttime would find me in Rosa’s cantina
Music would play and Felina would whirl

Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina
Wicked and evil while casting a spell
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden
I was in love, but in vain I could tell

One night a wild young cowboy came in
Wild as the West Texas wind
Dashing and daring, a drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina, the girl that I loved

So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore
My challenge was answered in less than a heartbeat
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor

Just for a moment I stood there in silence
Shocked by the foul evil deed I had done
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there
I had but one chance and that was to run

Out through the back door of Rosa’s I ran
Out where the horses were tied
I caught a good one, it looked like it could run
Up on its back and away I did ride
Just as fast as I could from the West Texas town of El Paso
Out to the badlands of New Mexico

Back in El Paso my life would be worthless
Everything’s gone in life nothing is left
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden
My love is stronger than my fear of death

I saddled up and away I did go
Riding alone in the dark
Maybe tomorrow a bullet may find me
Tonight nothing’s worse than this pain in my heart

And at last here I am on the hill overlooking El Paso
I can see Rosa’s Cantina below
My love is strong and it pushes me onward
Down off the hill to Felina I go

Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys
Off to my left ride a dozen or more
Shouting and shooting, I can’t let them catch me
I have to make it to Rosa’s back door

Something is dreadfully wrong, for I feel
A deep burning pain in my side
Though I am trying to stay in the saddle
I’m getting weary, unable to ride

But my love for Felina 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

From out of nowhere Felina has found me
Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side
Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for
One little kiss, then Felina good-bye

EML’s Favorite Songs – PATSY CLINE: “Crazy”

I’ve really been enjoying the Ken Burns series Country Music that’s been airing on PBS the past few weeks, and it’s reminded me of several classic country songs that I love. So, over the next week or two, I’ll be writing about a few of my personal favorites, the first of which is “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. The beautiful but heartbreaking song was Cline’s highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9 and reaching #2 on the Country Chart, and has endured as one of the most popular and beloved songs of all time in the 58 years since its release. It was stated in the Country Music series that it’s the most-played jukebox track of all time.

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Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Cline is considered one of the most important and influential female vocalists of the 20th Century, and one of the first country music artists to successfully crossover onto the pop charts. With her deep, resonant singing voice and ability to convey strong feelings of emotional pain and longing, she could bring even the biggest cynic to their knees. The Washington Star magazine beautifully described the essence of her vocal style: “She creates the moods through movement of her hands and body and by the lilt of her voice, reaching way down deep in her soul to bring forth the melody. Most female country music vocalists stand motionless, singing with a monotonous high-pitched nasal twang. Patsy’s come up with a throaty style loaded with motion and E-motion.

After a slow start, with a series of singles she recorded for Four Star Records failing to become hits, Cline finally had her first break-out hit “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Decca Records label in 1957. Then, surprisingly, she didn’t have another chart hit until 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces”. In June of that year, she and her brother were in a near-fatal head-on car crash in which she was thrown through the windshield, suffering a severe cut to her forehead that narrowly missed her eyes and left her with a huge scar. After recovering well enough from the accident, though still in pain, she recorded “Crazy”. And oh man, that pain seems to emanate from her very core when she delivers those poignant lyrics with such conviction that we believe every word.

Like with many classic songs, “Crazy” has an interesting back story.  Cline’s husband Charlie Dick actually first heard the song one night on a jukebox while waiting for her in a bar. It was a recording by Paul Buskirk and His Little Men, featuring Hugh Nelson – now known as Willie Nelson – who wrote the song. Dick thought it would be a perfect song for her, and approached Nelson about them recording his song, to which he agreed. He then pitched it to Cline, who didn’t like it, and didn’t want to record it. She considered herself a country singer, and didn’t particularly like the vulnerable heartbroken sound of songs like “Crazy.” But her record producer Owen Bradley believed those songs were exactly right for her, and ultimately convinced her to record it.

Bradley wanted to produce a new and more sophisticated form of country music by adding more instrumentation and background vocals to create a fuller, richer sound. He brought in The Jordanaires, who also sang backup on a lot of Elvis Presley’s songs, and hired young piano player Floyd Cramer, as well as bass guitarist Bob Moore. Cline listened to Buskirk & Nelson’s version of “Crazy” and decided she would perform it differently, removing a spoken section that was featured on the original recording.  When the song was set to be recorded on August 17, 1961, Cline first performed some other material, and by the time they got to “Crazy”, she was tired and had difficulty singing the song’s higher notes due to residual rib pain from the car accident. Bradley sent her home to rest while the musicians laid down the instrumentals without her. A week later she returned and recorded her vocal in a single take. As we can all attest, it was perfect, and the rest is history.

Her untimely death less than two years later was a terrible loss, and we can only imagine how many more wonderful songs she could have given the world.

Crazy
I’m crazy for feeling so lonely
I’m crazy
Crazy for feeling so blue

I knew
You’d love me as long as you wanted
And then some day
You’d leave me for somebody new

Worry
Why do I let myself worry?
Wondering
What in the world did I do?

Oh, crazy
For thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you

Crazy
For thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying
And crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you

ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

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Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

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The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Featured Song and Video: BLUE CACTUS – “I Never Knew Heartache (Then I Knew You)”

I’m not a big fan of what is generally referred to as ‘Bro-Country’, however I am quite partial to classic old-school country music of the 50s and 60s. I’m talking about Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Marty Robbins, all of whom could do no wrong. They wrote and sang songs about life and love that tore at your heartstrings, and their music strongly influenced a multitude of artists in other genres, including folk, rock, rockabilly, R&B, soul and the blues. I fondly remember a fantastic album my parents owned by the legendary Ray Charles called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which was a huge hit in 1962, but I digress… Thankfully, there are still artists around today who make country music that stays true to the classic form. The duo who call themselves Blue Cactus are such artists. Hailing from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Blue Cactus are singer/songwriters Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez.

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The pair played music together for three years as the Americana string band Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends, releasing two pretty decent albums, Over the World Below in 2013, and Nobody’s Darlin’ in 2015. They’ve now recorded their first full-length album as Blue Cactus, which is set to drop in late February. In advance of the album, they’ve released a lovely single “I Never Knew Heartache (Then I Knew You)” along with a compelling video.  

The song is about a woman whose man is being unfaithful, causing her heartache. With sorrow in her voice, Steph croons “Heartbreak will find you, wrap his arms round your waist. Hold you tight through the night, in his lonely embrace.” Musically, the song features many signature elements of a classic Country song – a pretty slide guitar riff, gentle piano keys, acoustic guitar, sweet violin and light percussion, all played at a languid pace. The lovely but rather mournful chorus adds to the overall sad vibe of the song.

The interesting video, produced by Roxanne Turpen, juxtaposes footage of the couple performing the song (in which Steph wears a short white-blonde wig) with other scenes of them acting out the story told by the song lyrics. Steph sings directly into the camera while her man spends time with another woman, unaware of her presence. Happier times are recalled in other scenes of them sharing tender moments together.

Here’s a nice video worth watching of Steph and Mario talking about why they make music and the influences for their particular style of Country.

To learn more about Blue Cactus, check out their website. Follow them on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram, and follow their YouTube channel. Their upcoming debut album may be pre-ordered at http://bluecactus.bigcartel.com/product/blue-cactus-cd-pre-order