Albums That Shaped My Life, Part One
You would think that, with such a large part that music has played in my life, the list of albums which have actually shaped who I am would be really long. Or even kinda long. But there are only two.
That's right. Two. You want to know who I am? These two albums will tell you all you need to know.
Now, I'm not saying that these are my favorite albums (they kind are), or that these are the "best" albums...nope, not at all.
It's just that these two albums came along, to me anyway, at important parts of my life and played a pivotal role in my development. Now, with me sitting here at 56 years old, they still play an important role. This week's blog will tell you the first one--and how it shaped me. You'll have to wait until next week for the second one--which was released 20 years after the first.
This week, we'll talk about "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" by the great Marty Robbins.
The album was released by Marty on the Columbia Records label in September 1959, two years before I was born. It peaked at #6 on the the US pop albums chart. Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was recorded on April 7, 1959, and was certified a gold in 1965. It's probably best known for Marty's most successful single, "El Paso," which was a major hit on both the country and pop music charts. It reached #1 in both charts at the start of 1960 and won the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording the following year. In 2017, the album was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."
I remember the vinyl album as part of my parents record collection, probably as far back as 1965. I just thought that this was about the coolest thing I had ever touched (I'd find out cooler things to touch in my teens, but that's a whole nother story!)
See, even back when I was supposed to have my very first pair of shoes, I got a little pair of cowboy boots instead. After I got over my initial dinosaur phase, it was all about cowboys. Cowboys on tv. Cowboys in the movies. I even had a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock. I was 7 when I almost drowned at come county fair because the drawstring under my chin got hooked on one of those old boat merry-go-rounds and it kept dunking me under the water. My hero was John Wayne--still is. He epitomized everything a man was supposed to be in a time when good was good and bad was bad.
"Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" became the soundtrack to those early years of my youth. The song El Paso was the first song that made me understand the power of what a song could do--and the places it could take me. That was the first track I'd heard on the album. I could smell the gunpowder, feel the bullets whiz by. I could hear the music in Rosa's Cantina, and feel the lather on the horse as it tried to outrun the seventeen mounted cowboys (five to my right, a dozen or more to my left).
The cowboy spirit portrayed on that album (and in the films and tv shows I watched) gave me, among other things, a strong sense of good and evil, how to stand for something I believe in, and how a good horse will never let me down. It taught me courage (which like John Wayne said, is "being scared to death but saddling up anyway), and it gave me a deep love of horses. I've worked on a ranch--where you really learn what hard work is all about and have ridden horses since I was about 7 years old.
There's something else that "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs taught me: that life is hard; that loneliness and sadness is a part of life, and that finding "cool, clear water" was a metaphor for so many things before I even knew what a metaphor was. I wear cowboy boots and starched Wrangler jeans, in part, because of that album.
Cowboys have been celebrated all through the years in Country Music. Maybe that's why I love country music. Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs by Marty Robbins played a huge part in shaping country music at the time--back when it was still "country and western" music. The lyrics of the songs on that album gave me the foundation for who I am today.
I pay tribute to that album and all the cowboys (the film ones and the REAL ones) who have gone before me. Marty Robbins opened the door to singers like Ian Tyson, Michael Martin Murphey, Patsy Montana, my friend Templeton Thompson, and so many others.
I'm not a real cowboy, but I like to think I come close...thanks largely to Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs by Marty Robbins, one of the two albums that shaped my life.
...next week, Part Two....and let me know what you think! Reach out to me on Nashville Access social media @nashvilleaccess or on my own socials, @camowallaceusa