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MARTY ROBBINS
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This page is dedicated to the most versatile performer in the history of country music: Marty Robbins. Whether he sang hard country, Mexican, Western, Hawaiian ballads, blues, gospel, rockabilly, contemporary country, or mainstream pop, the man surpassed all expectations. Even though he was successful, he never stayed too long in one style. However, he is probably most famous for his Western ballads, which expressed his love for the Old West.

He was born Martin David Robinson on September 25, 1925, in the desert just north of Glendale, Arizona. His family included his twin sister, Mamie, and seven brothers. Marty Robbins Print Although his father played the harmonica, he received most of his inspiration from his maternal grandfather, a travelling medicine man who told tales and sung cowboy songs. The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music has this quote:
"His name was 'Texas' Bob Heckle. He had two little books of poetry he would sell. I used to sing him church songs and he would tell me stories. A lot of the songs I've written, with the exception of "El Paso", were brought about because of stories he told me. Like "Big Iron" I wrote because he was a Texas Ranger. At least he told me he was."

(Print on right by Betty Harper)
One of his early idols was Gene Autry. Marty worked mornings picking cotton at a field ten miles away from home to earn enough money to see the his newest film. When he got there, he would sit in the first row "close enough so I could have gotten sand in the eyes and powder burns from the guns… I wanted to be the cowboy singer, simply because Autry was my favorite singer. No one else inspired me."

His early life wasn't the greatest. According to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Marty Robins
"later maintained that his father hated him and that his early childhood was unhappy. Reports indicate that John Robinson suffered from a drinking problem that led to him abusing his family before eventually leaving his wife, Emma, to cope alone with their seven children plus the two from her previous marriage. At one time, they lived in a tent in the desert, but in 1937 his parents divorced and Emma and the children moved to a shack in Glendale, where she took in laundry to support the family."
As a young teenager, Marty broke horses with older brother on a ranch near Phoenix. He attended school in Glendale, but he never graduated. By the early 1940's he left home and to live as a hobo, frequently engaging in petty crime. Then in May 1943, at the age of 19, he joined the US Navy for three years. He saw action in the Pacific. It was at this time that he acquired a love for Hawaiian music, learning to play guitar and writing and singing songs.

In 1946 returned home to Glendale. He began singing in local clubs and radio stations as Martin or Jack Robinson because his mother disapproved of him singing in clubs. Between gigs he worked construction jobs. On September 27, 1948, he married Marizona Baldwin -- a marriage that lasted until he died. They had a son, Ronald Carson Robinson, in 1949. Ronald became a singer and has performed as Ronny Robbins and Marty Robbins, Jr. In 1959 a daughter, Janet, was born.

By 1950, Marty had a strong local reputation and he made regular appearances on KTYL in Mesa, Arizona. He also had his own TV show on KPHO in Phoenix. Then, with the help of Little Jimmy Dickens, he made his first recording for Columbia in 1951, "Love Me or Leave Me Alone". In December 1952, "I'll Go On Alone" became his first US country hit (it charted for 18 weeks - 2 at Number One). It is said that Marty wrote this song because his wife did not like his showbusiness life.

Soon thereafter Marty Robbins was signed by Acuff-Rose Music productions as a writer. He made is debut on the Grand Ole Opry in 1952. Then, in January 1953, he moved to Nashville became member of Grand Ole Opry, also doing an early morning show on WSM. Later on he moved to Franklin where he would own a large ranch raising cattle. In 1955, Robbins had Top Ten country hits with the rockabilly tunes "That's All Right" and "Maybelline". Next, in 1956, "Singin' the Blues" became his first Number 1 country hit, also reaching Number 17 on the pop charts. "Knee Deep in the Blues" reached Number 3 in the country charts in 1957. A bigger hit that year was "A White Sport Coat", recorded in New York with Ray Conniff and his orchestra, which became a Number 1 country hit and a million seller. "The Story of My Life" and "Stairway of Love" were other major pop hits in 1958.

The late 1950's also showed Marty Robbins widening his interests by forming a talent and booking agency and his own record label. He also appeared in three "B" westerns "Raiders of Old California," "Badge of Marshal Brennan" and "Buffalo Gun." In 1959, he wrote and sang the title song from "The Hanging Tree," which starred Gary Cooper. After this, "El Paso" became a Number 1 country and pop hit and his 2nd million seller. It was also the first country music song to receive a Grammy award. Also, the album that contained "El Paso" became Marty's first gold record, "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs."

During the 60's Marty Robbins had 31 country hits, 13 of which did quite well in the pop charts. These included the Number 1 country hits "Don't Worry" (1961 - first song to include the 'fuzz' sound on the recording), "Ribbon of Darkness" (1962), "Devil Woman" (1963) and "Tonight Carmen" (1967). Robbins supported Barry Goldwater's 1964 run for President. He wrote "Ain't I Right" and "My Own Native Land" against Communism and anti-war protesters. Referring to these two songs, the Guiness Book of Popular Music says:
"..…Columbia, fearing racial repercussions, would not let him release them. However, his guitarist and backing vocalist, Bobby Sykes' recordings of the songs were released on the Sims label. He used the pseudonym Johnny Freedom, but sounded so much like his boss that for years many people have believed the recordings were Robbins himself. (Marty's own recordings were later released by Bear Family on the album 'Pieces of Your Heart'.)"
In 1969 Frankie Laine had a pop hit with "You Gave Me a Mountain" and Johnny Bush had the country version. Maty's own version was never released as a single. Marty appeared in the TV Series "The Drifter" in the 1960's. He starred in eight films including "Hell on Wheels," "The Nashville Story," "Ballad of a Gunfighter," "Road to Nashville" and "From Nashville with Music." He also wrote a western novel, "The Small Man."

Tragedy struck in August 1969, when Marty suffered a heart attack on his bus tour near Cleveland. In January 1970, he underwent bypass surgery. He received tens of thousands of card and letters from his fans while in the hospital and recovering at home.

Soon, though, he returned to the road and in April 1970 was appearing in Las Vegas. The song "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" became his 2nd Grammy winner for Best Country Song in 1970. This song was originally intended for Frankie Laine, but Marty's wife insisted that he perform it. That same year, the Academy of Country Music voted him The Man of the Decade. He left Columbia for Decca/MCA in 1972 and returned to them in 1975, recording the Number One country hits "El Paso City" and "Among My Souvenirs". During the 1970's he had 30 country hits, and he made film appearances in "Country Music," "Guns of a Stranger," "Country Hits," and "Atoka." He also appeared on various network TV shows, including "Dean Martin's Music Country" and "The Midnight Special," and on his own series, "Marty Robbins Spotlight." On March 9, 1974, Marty Robbins was the last performer on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Theater. Then, on March 16 he did the first show at the new Grand Ole Opry House. In 1975, he was elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame.

The busy schedule Marty was keeping did not let up at the onset of the 1980's. However, in January 1981, he again suffered a heart attack. In October 1982, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, playing his last concert on December 1, 1982 in Cincinnati. The next day he suffered his third heart attack, leading to major heart surgery. He died of cardiac arrest on December 8, 1982.

Marty Robbins's Grave
Woodlawn Memorial Park, TN
Picture courtesy of David Barr


A few days after his funeral, "Honky Tonk Man", the title song for Clint Eastwood's film entered the charts and peaked at Number 10.

During his career, Marty Robbins travelled to all corners of the United States and Canada. He made regular tours of England, Australia, Japan and other countries in the 1970's. We, his many thousands of fans worldwide, regret the loss of such a talented performer.

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