“Big Iron” is a country ballad written and performed by Marty Robbins, originally released as an album track on Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs in September 1959, then as a single in February 1960 with the song “Saddle Tramp” as the B-side single. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
It tells the story of an Arizona Ranger’s duel with a 24-year-old outlaw named Texas Red in the “town of Agua Fria”. The townspeople predict the death of the ranger; an unconcerned Texas Red having already killed “one and nineteen men”, but at the moment they meet, the ranger kills Texas Red with the swiftness of the “big iron on his hip.” Texas Red hadn’t even “cleared leather,” a slang for drawing your firearm out of its holster. The ranger’s draw was that swift, and one bullet was enough to finish the outlaw off.
Robbins’s version of the song reached #5 on the Billboard Country chart and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1960. The b-side, “Saddle Tramp” was not included on its a-side’s parent album, but was later placed on Robbins’ 1966 LP The Drifter.
The song is also featured in the video game Fallout: New Vegas on the in-game radio stations, ‘Mojave Music Radio’, ‘Black Mountain Radio’ and ‘Radio New Vegas’. The popularity of the game helped spur a revival of interest in Robbins’ music in the 21st century. In the decade following the video game’s release, “Big Iron” became an internet meme, gaining popularity through remixes and Photoshop parodies as well as its use on YouTube.
B-side “Saddle Tramp”
Released February 22, 1960
Recorded April 1959
Genre Country Tex-Mex
Songwriter(s) Marty Robbins
Producer(s) Don Law