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God spoke of...

There’s a reason Marty Robbins has been revered by musicians ranging from Elvis Presley to Pete Townshend. Without exaggeration, the man was one of the most amazing human beings of the 20th century. He was a performer who absolutely plastered the charts with hits for two decades, at one point holding the top three slots in the Billboard Hot 100; he was directly responsible for at least two separate music crazes, bringing the Hawaiian sounds he’d heard in the Navy to American pop in the late ‘50s and later spurring a craze in country for gunfighter ballads; he established a pretty impressive songwriting legacy, including evergreens like “A White Sport Coat”, “You Gave Me a Mountain”, “El Paso City”, and “Devil Woman”; he won the first Grammy ever awarded for a country-and-western record; he hosted his own variety show, starred in a TV western, spent decades warming up the crowd for Ernest Tubb at the Grand Ole Opry, acted in a half-dozen or so movies, and wrote a novel; and when he wasn’t doing all that, he kept himself busy as a part-time NASCAR driver (though admittedly not a very good one). He’s sometimes even said to have been the first person to undergo a successful triple coronary bypass. And he did all this while winning the permanent affection of colleagues and generally behaving like a complete mensch toward a devoted “army” of fans.

But despite such an astonishing record of innovation and success, I would not have guessed that Marty Robbins was the first musician to release a record containing fuzztone guitar.


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Comments (11)

John Thacker:


I'd say that "El Paso" is his incredibly famous evergreen, covered notably by the Grateful Dead (as well as Colin Powell.) "El Paso City," sort of a follow-up or rehash, also went to number one, and is very interesting thematically because the conceit is that the singer is flying over El Paso and half-remembering Marty's original song "El Paso." Still, the original is the one that I'd mention first.

The Darkest One:

In 1951, Ike Turner(RIP) used a "broken" amplifier to produce a fuzz tone on Rocket 88, recorded as Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats for Sun records. Sam Phillips was adamant that Ike keep the strange sound in he final mix. Sam would later discover a few other Rock and Roll gems ;)


I'd been given to understand that "El Paso" was actually a broadsheet ballad, originally written to commemorate an event that took place in El Paso about 1907. A young man had got into a fight in a bar over a young woman, fled town, and attempted to sneak back in, but was shot on sight. It wasn't that he'd actually killed anybody in the bar (though he might well have, it would have been self-defense and nobody's concern), but that when he jumped on that horse to ride away, he had asked no permission and made no arrangements to pay for it. He was therefore shot on sight as a horse thief.

I like that story so much that I've never attempted to verify it. If Marty Robbins wrote it himself after all, more power to him.

John Thacker:

Yeah, Marty wrote the song and lyrics to El Paso himself. An amazing song that really is an all-time classic. Both country and pop chart-topper. The song that won that first Grammy for a country and western song.

Well, "El Paso" is an inspired performance but I can only imagine how dreary and tail-chasing it was in the hands of the Dead. I reserve the right to prefer the more sophisticated postmodern sequel.


Fine writer. Angelina is a song never mentioned but has a nice understated resignation.

We could be here for a week if we got started on this subject. "Man Walks Among Us" is one of the hokiest pieces of cheese ever recorded but it always raises the hair on the back of my neck anyway.

John Thacker:

I can only imagine how dreary and tail-chasing it was in the hands of the Dead.

Not at all, really. They played it straight, just like the vast majority of their country covers.

The song that won that first Grammy for a country and western song.


The Darkest One above has a point. Here's Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm pioneering fuzztone in 1951:

Rocket 88

I think he won a NASCAR race once, but had it revoked when a post-race inspection found a violation of the rules limiting engine performance. Marty's response was something like, "Yeah, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep it, but I just wanted to show I could drive as fast as the big boys."


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