El Paso (Marty Robbins)

  1. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I've just had a bash at the tune to the Marty Robbins song "El Paso". It's a pretty unusual tune for a Western ballad -- a fast waltz modulating between F and Bb -- and I got the idea of trying to play it as an instrumental on mandolin from the fact that the original recording is mandolin-led. Song tunes rarely work as solo instrumentals, but this one is fun to play (and to listen to, I hope).

    Marty Robbins' original is here, and the lyrics and tune (in standard notation) are at the Digital Tradition database here.

    T:El Paso
    F F A| c A F| G G B| d B2| C E G| B A G| B A G| F3-| F z z| F F A|\
    c A F| G G B| d B2| C E G| B A G| B A G| F3-| F z z|
    F B B| B2 c| e d c| B3| F B d| e d e| f3-|a3/2-g/2-f-|e3-| e3|\
    F A c| f f d| f e c| A F F| F A c| e d c| e d c| B3-| B A B| c3| B2 G|
    F F A| c A F| G G B| d B2| C E G| B A G| B A G| F3-| F z F| F F A|\
    c A F| G G B| d B3/2 F/2| C E G| B A G| B A G| F3-| F z z|

  2. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    What a great idea! I've tried for years to emulate Grady Martin's guitar leads to this song -- with no joy. But a mandolin! The light dawns because that is certainly possible as you demonstrate.
  3. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Thanks a lot, Michael. I like this tune a lot, although what I play isn't an imitation of the original instrumental track but rather just the main melody (vocal) line with a tiny bit of rhythmic embellishment. The original instrumental leads on the record sometimes shadow (or repeat) the vocal line, but more frequently fill in between to add the ineffable Tex-Mex flavour. From listening to it, I'm unsure if they are indeed all played on the guitar: although the tone is largely guitar-like, a lot of the actual picking is up in the mandolin range and there are several tremolo licks and fills that shout "mandolin" to me.

    Looking up "Grady Martin" and "mandolin", I've come across this article by George Gruhn in Vintage Guitar. It describes Grady Martin's 1952 semi-hollow Bigsby double-neck guitar: one six-string guitar neck, one five-string mandolin neck. The article does namecheck "El Paso", but is vague on whether Grady used that guitar on the track. It would explain the range of tones and the picking style in the leads. "El Paso" was recorded in 1959, so it postdates the Bigsby. However, I've also seen a rumour that Grady used a nylon-strung DelVechio resonator guitar on that track.

  4. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Martin, I did a little research and found some video clips of Grady Martin playing that very instrument. On this clip he plays the mandolin neck on his break to "Milk 'em In The Morning Blues."

    On the next clip Grady plays the guitar neck on his break to Hearts of Stone:

    He was an amazing instrumentalist and on the tune El Paso he was certainly capable of playing all those beautiful backup licks, from the bends to the doublestop tremolos, on just a simple acoustic 6 string guitar. I couldn't verify that is what he did anywhere, but listening really closely in my headphones it certainly sounds like a little slice of acoustic guitar heaven...
  5. Eddie Sheehy
    My dad used to sing this song to me when I was kid... Here's my homage on a teens Gibson H1 Mandola...

  6. Manfred Hacker
    Manfred Hacker
    Very nice guys. Thanks for this song.

    It reminds me of the time when I got plastered several times in Rosa's Cantina in El Paso City
  7. Eddie Sheehy
  8. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Eddie -- sounding good on the mandola, the darker tone suits the song.

    Manfred -- a little voice in my head tells me that the name of the bar you were drinking in wasn't entirely coincidental.

    Michael -- following up on the discussion of Grady Martin, I never knew until I stumbled onto the video below that Grady recorded an all-instrumental cover version of El Paso. Great guitar playing, of course, but too string-laden for my taste. One of the great things about the original Marty Robbins recording of El Paso (and indeed the whole Gunfighters album) was its stripped-down arrangements. It's interesting hearing him play the actual melody on this version, though, as this is something he didn't really do on the vocal record. I feel somewhat vindicated in the way I dealt with the high legato phrase, as Grady went for tremolo too.

  9. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    After my recording of the (unrelated) El Paso Waltz last week, here is a new recording of the Marty Robbins tune, this time with tenor guitar accompaniment and better time-keeping. Otherwise using the same transcription as in 2011. Same mandolin, too.

    Mid-Missouri M-0W mandolin
    Vintage Viaten tenor guitar

  10. Ginny Aitchison
    Ginny Aitchison
    Martin, I like it when you play something out of the ordinary for you. One day I want to see you show us the whole attic. I've seen your attic for 10? years? It's like David's house - we like to look around. This is nicely played with just the right amount of tremolo.
  11. Frithjof
    Martin, I very much enjoyed this recording with your faithful tenor guitar accompaniment.
  12. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Thanks, Ginny and Frithjof! It's a fun tune on mandolin.

    Ginny: that's the same room as in my 2011 clip further up, just a couple of metres to the left -- the armchair I was sitting in for the early video is at the right of the frame in the new one and is still in the same place. The cabinet has moved to the other side of the room, though, and has been replaced with an instrument storage unit made from an old workbench. I may swap the chair and the camera at one stage to give you the opposite wall as background...

  13. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    Martin, I found myself singing along to your rendition there. I was actually remembering the lyrics quite well, and the West Texas town of El Paso and Rose's cantina flashed into my mind. Marty was a wonderful performer of those cowboy ballads. A fine bit of playing, sir.
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