“Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Nighttime would find me in Rosa’s cantina
Music would play and Feleena would whirl
“Blacker than night were the eyes of Feleena
Wicked and evil while casting a spell
My love was deep for this Mexican maiden
I was in love, but in vain I could tell…”
– Marty Robbins, “El Paso,”1959
The Rosa’s Cantina that is said to have inspired Marty Robbins to write of the bewitching Feleena still operates in El Paso, the first Texas stop on the eastbound route of our cross-country bicycle journey.
According to Google, the restaurant/bar with a stone-masonry front is at 3454 Doniphan Drive in an industrial area of west El Paso that looks across the Rio Grande to the badlands of New Mexico.
Rosa’s serves lunch on weekdays and operates as a bar on Saturdays and evenings.
Marty Robbins was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in the 1950s. On his drives back to his native Arizona, he is said to have passed or stopped in at Rosa’s on old U.S. 80. When Interstate 10 was built in the late 1960s on high ground behind Rosa’s, the restaurant was left off the beaten path. But Rosa’s is said to be an easy on/easy off stop off I-10 at the Sunland Park exit.
I’m not a Spanish speaker, but I understand the standard spelling for the name of the spell-binding damsel at Rosa’s is “Felina.” Apparently Robbins perferred the spelling “Feleena,” as that’s the spelling that’s used in the song “Feleena (from El Paso)” on Robbins’ 1966 album “The Drifter.”
Robbins’ 1959 hit “El Paso” got new life in the late 1980s as the official fight song for the Miners of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). UTEP’s earlier fight song, “Miners Fight,” had been borrowed from the flagship campus in Austin. But the UTEP Music Department, with the blessing of the estate of Marty Robbins, wrote a new fight song to the melody of “El Paso”:
“Down in the west Texas town of El Paso,
Home of the river they call Rio Grande.
Down on the border the town of El Paso,
Home of the Miners the best in the land. …”
A Mexican cantina that inspires a gunfighter ballad that in turn inspires a college fight song. Such is the eclectic nature of American pop culture.