The old west gunfighter and trail ballads, drinking songs, and revenge songs had an influence on me that was, and still is, every bit as strong as the impact Louis L’Amour’s books left with me. My lifelong interest, perhaps fascination bordering on obsession, with everything old west—truth, legends, and myths alike—have roots in those old cowboy and country songs.
I’m inviting you to read along with me this year as I post one or two nostalgic-for-me country ballads on the first Wednesday of each month. I will share a snippet of trivia about each song along with a YouTube video.
Each month, I will include a link back to the previous month’s article as reference to those songs. The common thread that runs among the songs I’ve chosen for this musical memory lane excursion is tragic lost love.
January – Marty Robbins – El Paso and Feleena
February – Faron Young – TheYellow Bandana
March – Willie Nelson and Ray Charles – Seven Spanish Angels
April – Marty Robbins – San Angelo
May – Billy Walker – Cross the Brazos at Waco
This month’s song is another one by Billy Walker, Matamoros.
Matamoros, a track on Walker’s album Cross the Brazos at Waco, made it to #59 on the country music charts in 1965. Matamoros was written by Kay Arnold, who also wrote Cross the Brazos at Waco.
This is one of those songs I've heard a gazillion times, but I didn't really hear the lyrics. It always seemed like a straight-up tragic love story ballad with the woman sacrificing herself to save the man she loves. Hearing this song with ‘new ears’, I now realize the depth of the jealousy and control that precipitates a death in this song parallels another familiar old west ballad.
I will come back to that.
Matamoros tells the story of a man recalling how the woman he loved died. These memories make him feel low as the beggar who sits on the street. He’s standing in the plaza listening to the music and watching the couples, while regretting that the woman he loved isn’t there with him.
Let’s pause to listen to the song, then I’ll resume my commentary.
The man is thinking back about how he fell in love with a woman with eyes black as midnight. He says he left her not long ago, but who knows what that really means. It could have been a week. It could have been a couple of years. Regardless, within the first few lines, he tells us she made promises to him. We assume they were promises of her undying love. But, in retrospect, he says her promises were fickle, yet he also changes his mind and says he realizes the moment she loved me more than life. This man is emotionally conflicted as he recalls what happened to this woman and his part in her death.
In the midst of this thinking that bounces from the present to the past and back to the present, we realize jealousy, and the perceived unfaithfulness (seems to me more imagined than real) of the woman is what brought him back to Matamoros …to claim what was mine and there’ll be bad trouble if I catch her cheating on me. The love of my woman is one thing that I’ll never share.
He gives us no rational reason to believe she hasn’t been faithful other than his too-much-alone-with-his-thoughts suspicions. This is somewhat similar to the reaction of the narrator in the El Paso lyrics and his perceived unfaithfulness of Feleena with the wild young cowboy. This Matamoros fellow jumps to jealous conclusions when he sees the woman laughing and dancing and tossing her raven black hair with a wild young vaquero similarly to …dashing and daring, the drink he was sharing with wicked Feleena, the girl that I loved.
Matamoros fellow confronts the young vaquero. A knife fight ensues. The woman jumps between them, and is killed. The man leaves town and never returns. I say he left out of guilt more than sorrow.
Any way you interpret this song, it’s an oldie, but a goodie when it comes to tragic love lost classic country ballads. I’m also delighted that I finally realized the loose similarities between El Paso and Matamoros.
Until next time,
writing through history one romance upon a time