Marty Robbins was an American singer, songwriter, actor, multi-instrumentalist and racing driver. One of the most popular and successful country and western singers of all time for most of his near four-decade career….while often topping the country music charts…..with several of his songs having crossover success as pop hits.
Music journalist Mary Harron wrote the following about him in The Guardian: “Robbins was a symbol of the Nashville establishment that younger country fans abandoned in the Seventies for the bleached-denim ‘outlaw school ofWaylon Jennings andWillie Nelson….as Robbins belonged to the Jim Reeves era and he wore his embroidered cowby suits proudly. Best known for the western ballad, El Paso, as seen herewith performed at Austin City Limits in 1980….his career also touched the rock n roll side of country in songs like White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation…..and Robbins kept a touch of the dude about him to the end. In 1980, Robbins appeared on the PBS music program Austin City Limits (season 5). In addition to his recordings and performances.
Marty Robbins has been honored by many bands….including the Grateful Dead who covered “El Paso” …..along with Bob Weir & Kingfish who covered “Big Iron”…..while The Who’s 2006 album Endless Wire includes the song “God Speaks of Marty Robbins”….as the song’s composer, Pete Townshend, explained that the song is about God deciding to create the universe just so he can hear some music…. “and most of all, one of his best creations, Marty Robbins.”The Beasts of Bourbon released a song called “The Day Marty Robbins Died” on their 1984 debut album The Axeman’s Jazz. Both Frankie Laine and Elvis Presley, among others, recorded versions of Robbins’ song “You Gave Me a Mountain”….with Laine’s recording reaching the pop and adult contemporary charts in 1969. Though Elvis never recorded any of Robbins’ songs in the studio….he was a big fan and recorded “You Gave Me a Mountain” live in concert several times….as it appeared on 15 Presley albums. Johnny Cash recorded a version of “Big Iron” as part of his American Recordings series….which is included in the Cash Unearthed box set. Cash also recorded other songs by Robbins, including “I Couldn’t Keep From Crying”, “Kate” and “Song Of The Patriot”….as Cash held Robbins in high esteem….while having him as a guest several times on his network TV show. “Big Iron” was also covered by Mike Ness on his album Under the Influences….on which he paid homage to country music artists. The song, originally released on Robbins’ 1959 album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, gained renewed popularity following its use in the video game Fallout: New Vegas.
Robbins was an avid race car driver….while competing in 35 career NASCAR Grand National (now Monster Energy Cup) races with six top-10 finishes….including the 1973 Firecracker 400 In 1967….as Robbins played himself in the car racing film Hell on Wheels…..and was partial to Dodges prepared by NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Cotton Owens….while owning and racing Dodge Chargers….and then a 1978 Dodge Magnum. He was also the driver of the 60th Indianapolis 500 Buick Century pace car in 1976….as his last race was in a Junior Johnson-built 1982 Buick Regal in the Atlanta Journal 500 on November 7, 1982, a month before his death.
Marty Robbins had a history of cardiovascular disease….so, after his third heart attack on December 2, 1982….he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery….and did not recover while dying six days later on December 8, 1982, at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville…..when he was 57 years old. If there ever was a legend of country and western ballads….it was Marty Robbins.