El Paso is considered one of the premier gunfighter songs and is one of the most well known Country & Western ballads. The song was first recorded in 1959 by Marty Robbins and released on the “Gunfighters Ballads and Trail Songs” album.
Though the song is Country & Western, it also charted in first position on the US Billboard Hot 100 for 1959. The song has been covered by bands like the Grateful Dead, who first covered the song in 1969. This is a live version from Oklahoma City in 1972:
There have been many versions of this song. There was the original full-length, an abridged version, and an edited version – all done by Robbins. The abridged version was because the song was as long as it is and Columbia Records wasn’t sure if DJs would play a song that long.
The song is about a love triangle and sung from the perspective of a cowboy who was in love with a young lady named Feleena (Felina), a Mexican dancer. He finds her dancing with another man and calls him out. He then shoots unnamed man and goes on the run after stealing a horse (a hanging offense).
Because his love is stronger than his fear of death, he returns to the scene of the crime and ends up getting shot in his saddle. Feleena finds him and he dies in her arms after one last little kiss.
Marty wrote two sequels to the song but neither received much acclaim. The first was “Felina (From El Paso)” which tells the story of Felina, the girl in the story.
The other is “El Paso City” which tells the story from the perspective of a person flying in an airplane over the city of El Paso.
This song is notable as it was one of the longer songs during the day and it is one of the earliest songs to cross the charts and make it as both a C&W and Pop song.