Posts Tagged ‘Marty Robbins’

‘Big Iron On His Hip . . .’

April 7, 2015

Sometimes, when I look for something that matches a date, I struggle to find something fun or even interesting. I look through the reference library, the CD and LP logs, through the lists of tracks recorded on that date and through the Wikipedia entry on that date . . . and I sit here dithering, trying to select the best option from any number of uninspiring choices.

Today is not one of those days. It was on April 7, 1959, that Marty Robbins was in the studio, laying down one of the tracks for his album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which would be released that September. The track was “Big Iron,” the tale of a confrontation between an Arizona ranger and an outlaw named Texas Red:

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day
Hardly spoke to folks around him, didn’t have too much to say
No one dared to ask his business, no one dared to make a slip
For the stranger there among them had a big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was early in the morning when he rode into the town
He came riding from the south side, slowly lookin’ all around
He’s an outlaw loose and running came the whisper from each lip
And he’s here to do some business with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red
Many men had tried to take him and that many men were dead
He was vicious and a killer though a youth of twenty four
And the notches on his pistol numbered one and nineteen more
One and nineteen more

Now the stranger started talking, made it plain to folks around
Was an Arizona ranger, wouldn’t be too long in town
He came here to take an outlaw back alive or maybe dead
And he said it didn’t matter, that he was after Texas Red
After Texas Red

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red
But the outlaw didn’t worry, men that tried before were dead
Twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip
Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet
It was twenty past eleven when they walked out in the street
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath
They knew this handsome ranger was about to meet his death
About to meet his death

There was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play
And the swiftness of the ranger is still talked about today
Texas Red had not cleared leather ’fore a bullet fairly ripped
And the ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round
There before them lay the body of the outlaw on the ground
Oh, he might have went on living but he made one fatal slip
When he tried to match the ranger with the big iron on his hip
Big iron on his hip

The album was released in September 1959 and went to No. 6 on the Billboard 200. “Big Iron” was released as a single in early 1960; it went to No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 5 on the magazine’s country chart. (The classic track “El Paso,” which was included on the same album, was also recorded fifty-six years ago today. Released as a single in late 1959, it was No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks and No. 1 on the country chart for seven weeks.)

Marty Robbins has shown up here before, first in the chart-digging discovery of his 1970 folk-rock piece “Jolie Girl” and then when his 1957 hit, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation,” was part of “White” in our exploration of what we called Floyd’s Prism. Today’s track, “Big Iron,” is one I hadn’t heard until about a year ago, when I collected a five-CD set titled Columbia Country Classics. It’s left me thinking I need to dig up a copy of Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs for myself.

Revised slightly after initial posting.


January 31, 2014

And so, after several delays, we land on “White,” the last of nine chapters in Floyd’s Prism, looking at songs whose titles feature the seven colors of the spectrum plus black and white.

As with nearly all of the previous entries, when we sort the tracks in the RealPlayer, we get a total of 766. That’s many more than we need, but many of them, we cannot use. Some show up, as I noted the other day, because they’re tagged with the notation, “Ripped from vinyl by whiteray.” But others, equally unuseable, show up for other reasons.

Some have words in their titles that are close to “white,” including eleven versions of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” And we’ll also pass on “Whitestone Bridge,” a 1973 tune from the Irish band Tír na nÓg; “Whitewash,” a 1976 outing by the Gin Blossoms; and two versions of Curtis Mayfield’s 1971 offering, “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey).”

Out goes everything by the Average White Band, Tony Joe White, country singer Joy Lynn White, vintage singers Bukka White, Josh White and Georgia White, harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, current performer Jack White and country singer Lari White. We also dismiss the great “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead, a few vintage tracks by Paul Whitehead & His Orchestra and two tracks from Lavelle White, one on Duke from 1958 and the other from her 2003 album, Into the Mystic. And we pass by every track in the collection by Barry White; we could have kept his “Rhapsody in White,” but we decided against it.

What else? Three albums titled Black & White, by the BoDeans, the Pointer Sisters and the previously mentioned Tony Joe White, fall by the wayside, as do Shawn Phillips’ 1973 album Bright White (we posted the title tune here the other week), Michael Omartian’s 1974 effort White Horse, most of David Gray’s 200 album White Ladder and Gene Clark’s 1971 offering White Light. We also pass by the Cowboy Junkies’ 1986 album Whites Off Earth Now!! and numerous singles on the White Whale label.

So we take what’s left, which turns out to be plenty for our purposes this morning.

I mentioned David Gray’s 2000 album White Ladder above. It’s a CD that’s truly not strayed far from our player during the years since it came out, a tuneful and literate album. The best-known track on the record is no doubt “Babylon,” which made seven different Billboard charts, reaching No. 57 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Top 40. While the title track is nowhere near as well-known (and doesn’t have nearly as great a hook as “Babylon,” to be honest), “White Ladder” is still a good track from an artist whose body of work has sometimes been uneven (and sometimes gets a little repetitive, to be honest).

Nearly seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out to be the tales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood written by Steve Allen and then told by Al “Jazzbo” Collins in early 1950s jazz and hipster lingo. The 1953 record was an unlikely hit, and it spun off more such performances. Today’s selection is “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” as told by Collins later that same year. The story came from the pen of Douglas Jones, whose ear for the hipster argot was, to my own ears, not as sharp as was Allen’s. Still, it’s a fun trip through the woods to the dwarves’ rib shack.

There’s not a lot more for me to say about the late Levon Helm. Today’s sorting brought up Helm’s take on the Carter Stanley tune “White Dove,” from Helm’s 2009 album, Electric Dirt. The album went to No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and was awarded a Grammy as the Best Americana Album in 2010.

From 2009 we drop back sixty-eight years to what is certainly the most sentimental song in this set of six. But then, wartime can do that, and “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” is one of the quintessential songs of World War II. Written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, the tune reflects the unease of Britons facing Nazi Germany alone and expresses hope for a return to normal life after the war. Though other versions might have become better known on this side of the Atlantic, especially the version by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the version by Vera Lynn – the original, I believe – is the one that the Brits loved, despite the sad fact that bluebirds are not indigenous to the British Isles and have never flown over the tall white cliffs. Lyricist Burton, notes Wikipedia, was an American who seemingly didn’t know any better, but no matter: Since 1941, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” anyway.

Chad Mitchell was, as his name reminds us, the founder of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that placed eight albums in the Billboard 200 between 1962 and 1965 (the last two charting after Mitchell left and the group was renamed just the Mitchell Trio (and included among its members at that time John Denver). Mitchell at that point embarked on a solo career, and one of the artifacts of that rather unsuccessful effort is the 1969 album Chad. The album, writes Richie Unterberger at All Music Guide, was “an odd match of Mitchell’s crooning folk vocals with covers of then-recent folk-rock-ish songs by Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’), Dino Valente (‘Let’s Get Together’), and far more obscure titles like Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye & Hello,’ H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The White Ship,’ Jim & Jean’s ‘What’s That Got to Do with Me,’ and the Association’s ‘Bus Song’.” It’s the Lovecraft tune that draws us in this morning. The album-opener, “The White Ship” is, in its weird and unmarketable (but oddly compelling) way, 1969 summed up in three minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

From 1969’s folk-rock self-indulgence, we head to 1957 and a concise country anthem, “A White Sport Coat & A Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins. The tale of the young fellow all spiffed up for the dance only to have his gal waltz off with someone else was No. 1 on the Billboard country charts for five weeks in mid-1957. It was one of a remarkable eighty-three records Robbins placed in the country Top 40; the record also went to No. 2 on the Hot 100, where Robbins had thirty-six records in or near the chart over the years.

‘Fluffy Hats, Rings & Beads . . .’

October 24, 2013

Oh, we walked the streets of Greenwich Village
Holdin’ hands like school kids in the summer August sun,
Smilin’ at the passing strangers on their way
And wishin’ the end would never come.
Then a flower lady sold me one red rose to give you
For your chestnut hair, just to make it shine,
Then I held it close to me, and I whispered,
“Jolie girl, when will you be mine?”

That’s the first verse to a little gem I found hiding in the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100 from October 24, 1970, forty-three years ago today. That’s an autumn of radio I know well, an autumn I easily place in the stack of the better seasons of my youth. But I’d never known of “Jolie Girl” until I was digging around in my reference files this morning.

Then we stepped up to the first stand on the corner
For some coconut champagne
And a taxi driver cussed us, ’cause a blind man got his tip
And tapped “thank you” with his cane.
And we ducked out of the rain into a dusty little shop
That traded books, fluffy hats, rings and beads
Then I held you close to me, and I whispered,
“Jolie girl, you’re all I need.”

Greenwich Village in August, coconut champagne, and a dusty shop with books, fluffy hats, rings and beads: Sounds like hippie singer-songwriter stuff to me. (It also sounds like a time and place I wish I could have experienced.) So who was it who wrote and recorded this folk-rock paean to late summertime love in the city?

Well, it was the same guy who wrote and sang eleven years earlier about lovely Felina and the west Texas town of El Paso. Yeah, Marty Robbins. As the YouTube poster of the video below noted, this is not expected territory for Robbins, far better known as a country singer than as a singer of anything else.

The record didn’t do much of anything on the pop chart, sitting at No. 108 for one week and then disappearing. It did pretty well on the Billboard country chart, getting to No. 7.

It’s a decent record, although it seems to me that the drums get in the way a little bit at the end. And it’s always fun to find out that a performer stretched a little bit, trying something different now and then.

Oh, Jolie girl, please don’t ask me how long I’ll be stayin’
Here with your dandy ship of dreams that we can share.*
Tomorrow is just another day, I’m maybe far away
Jolie girl, I might be anywhere
So let’s spread our blanket in the park and hold each other close
The night is coming on and soon we’ll have to go
But remember, Jolie girl, oh remember
Jolie girl, I love you so.

*I found the lyrics online, and I’ve made some minor corrections and alterations, but I’m not sure the “dandy ship of dreams” is correct. I’ve listened to that verse maybe fifty times, and I still can’t tell exactly what it is Robbins is singing there.