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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Carolyn Sills Gets Candid About “Return to El Paso”

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Winners of the 2018 Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Band of the Year, the Carolyn Sills Combo has long been known for their “Spaghetti Western Swing” style of music.

Carolyn Sills Combo, Carolyn, Sills, Combo, Return to El Paso, El Paso
Carolyn Sills/The Press House

Carolyn Sills and her husband, Gerard Egan, were recently inducted into the Sacramento Swing Hall of Fame. With this album, the group pays homage to country music and keeps the intrigue of “El Paso” alive 60 years after it first stirred listeners’ imaginations.

We here at Country Thang Daily had the pleasure to interview the eclectic frontwoman about their upcoming album!

Interview with Carolyn Sills

Carolyn Sills, Carolyn, Sills, Album, El Paso
Carolyn Sills/The Press House

Country Thang Daily: Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Carolyn Sills: I front The Carolyn Sills Combo, a Spaghetti Western Swing band out of Santa Cruz, CA. Our biggest influences are classic country, western swing, and spaghetti western films.

I take great pride in my lyrics, preferring to tell stories that paint a cinematic picture or give a unique perspective on a historical event. My guitarist husband, Gerard Egan, and I started the Combo when we moved to Santa Cruz some years back, to work at Santa Cruz Guitar Company. We have an 80 lb cattle dog named Cowboy, a wonderful collection of vinyl records, and a healthy addiction to Mexican food.

CTD: What or who are your biggest inspirations in music?

CS: One of my biggest musical influences is Marty Robbins – and for so many reasons. Of course was a fabulous singer, with amazing range, delivery, and passion to his voice. But he was also an incredible songwriter and storyteller. Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs is like a movie for your ears; the characters and narration are so captivating.

As a child, I would imagine all the characters in my head – so much so that years later, it feels like a Western film I once saw. He always surrounded himself with fantastic players, like Grady Martin, the Glaser Brothers – like I do with Gerard Egan, Charlie Joe Wallace, Jim Norris, and Sunshine Jackson… and just like our Combo, he didn’t limit himself to one style.

Of course, we know him for his cowboy and Western songs, but he has amazing Hawaiian albums and pop albums. He wrote for the sake of the song and to what inspired him – and that’s what I set out to do.

CTD: You are known for your “Spaghetti Western Swing” style of music. Describe it a little bit for us -along with your creative process?

CS: Gerard and I have been writing music together for years, and we never set out to fit into one specific style. It was always about writing a good song with genuine lyrics and a melody and style that was best suited for the story.

Of course, one will gravitate towards what they are listening to at the time, and in the last few years, a lot of Western swing and cowboy music has been on our record player. It wasn’t until we were nominated for our first Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Group that we realized people considered us a Western Swing band.

And being big fans of Spaghetti Western movies like the Dollars Trilogy, as well as Ennio Morricone’s music, we were influenced by that vast cinematography and thematic soundtracks, so Spaghetti Western Swing just seemed to fit the bill.

CTD: Congratulations on the newest album, by the way, can’t wait for it to be released! Can you talk more about your inspiration for this album?

CS: We wanted to write a record that gave more back story to one Marty Robbins song in particular: “El Paso.” This year marked the 60th anniversary of the release of that iconic song, and we thought it should be celebrated.

We wrote five songs about various characters within Marty’s “El Paso” to expand on his original story and give the characters even more personality and motivation for their fateful actions. We stay true to Marty’s tale and even the back story he provides in his follow up song, “Feleena From El Paso.”

We recorded it over two days in a small studio in Joshua Tree, California, with producer/engineer Sylvia Massy, who has worked on a long list of famous albums, including Johnny Cash’s Unchained with Rick Rubin.

CTD: I love how creative you are when it came to writing it based on the perspectives of the song’s characters. What made you decide to do it this way?

CS: We wanted to do something different – something more than just a collection of new Combo songs. We wanted to show our respect and appreciation for an album that has truly influenced our music and songwriting, and do our part to introduce it to a new audience. So much happens in four minutes and thirty-eight seconds of El Paso – an album’s worth of characters, action, and drama.

So it was a fun assignment to take that on and focus on specific characters. Of course, there is the wicked Feleena… Did she know what she was doing all along – that if she shared a drink with this handsome young stranger at Rosa’s for long enough, her jealous lover would come in and take action? And who was this “dashing and daring” stranger, “wild as the West Texas wind,” as Marty described him?

Perhaps he was a former lover of hers from her days in Santa Fe that she still planned to marry, but he rode to El Paso to end things with her once he caught wind of her affair. And don’t forget a very important character, the horse Marty steals as he runs for his life out the back door of Rosa’s. “I caught a good one, it looked like it could run, up on its back and away I did ride…”

How did that horse end up at Rosa’s that night? And when Marty comes back, lovesick, from the Badlands of New Mexico, who were those “five mounted cowboys” off to his right… and who was the ranger who actually pulled the trigger, sending Marty off his horse and to his fate in the wicked arms of Feleena? These are the questions I had and the motivation for these songs.

CTD: Last question! What are you most excited about in the album?

CS: I am most excited for fans of Marty Robbins to hear our album. I hope they appreciate the references and it adds to the movie “El Paso” they’ve been watching in their heads all these years, as well.

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