I grew up in the late 50s and 60s listening to the country music of that era. I stuck with country music through the 70s. I made it into the 80s but, by the late 80s, country music as I knew and loved was headed in a direction that, with a few exceptions, I wasn’t interested going. So I didn’t. (Get off my lawn.)
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
June – Billy Walker – Matamoros
July – Marty Robbins – Running Gun
August – Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger
This month’s song is ballad They’re Hanging Me Tonight by Marty Robbins.
The story expresses the lamentations of a man facing his hanging for murdering Flo (ex-girlfriend?) and ‘her new love’. It’s also interesting to note that the man apparently didn’t evade arrest after he killed Flo and her new man, since they’ll bury Flo tomorrow, but they’re hanging me tonight. Not much time has elapsed between murder and punishment.
Conversely, if he did flee the scene at the dimly lit café, he wasn’t on the lam for long. Reading between the lines suggests Old West ‘justice’ happened to bring about his hanging so quickly after Flo is buried. No lengthy trial for this man. Was this a case of vigilante justice for the double murders—these crimes of passion—since he freely admits what he did wasn’t right? Either way, his heart is filled with fear as he faces his imminent execution.
James Lowe and Art Wolpert wrote They’re Hanging Me Tonight. Marty Robbins released it in September 1959 on his album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. The album’s peak position on the country music chart for 1960 was No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 20 in the U.K.
Until next time,
writing through history one romance upon a time