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Robbins, Marty (originally, Robinson, Martin David)

Robbins, Marty (originally, Robinson, Martin David)

Robbins, Marty (originally, Robinson, Martin David) , American country singer, songwriter, and guitarist; b. near Glendale, Ariz., Sept. 26, 1925; d. Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 8, 1982. A major country singer of the 1950s and 1960s, Robbins crossed over to the pop charts with some of his biggest hits, including “Singing the Blues,” “Don’t Worry,” and “A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation).” Though accomplished in many styles, he was best known for his ballads about the Old West, especially “El Paso.” He reached the country charts 94 times between 1952 and 1983.

Robbins, the son of John and Emma Heckle Robinson, grew up in a large, poor family in the Ariz, desert. When he was 12 his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother to Glendale. During World War II he served with the navy in the Pacific, meanwhile learning to play the guitar. After the war he returned to Ariz., where he gradually built up a career as a singer and guitarist in clubs and on local radio and television. On Sept. 27, 1948, he married Marizona Baldwin, with whom he had two children, the first being Ronald Carson Robinson (b. Phoenix, July 16, 1949), who would become a country singer under the name Ronny Robbins.

Robbins made his debut as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry radio show in Nashville in 1948, but his real break didn’t come until 1951, when country singer “Little” Jimmy Dickens, a Columbia Records recording artist, appeared on his TV show, Western Caravan, and then recommended that Columbia sign him. He made his recording debut with the label in November 1951. His records were not immediately successful, but in January 1953, “I’ll Go on Alone” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) hit #1 in the country charts. He joined the Grand Ole Opry on Jan. 19, 1953, and moved to Nashville.

Robbins had additional country hits in 1953–55, but he didn’t top the charts again until he cut “Singing the Blues” (music and lyrics by Melvin Endsley), which went to #1 in November 1956. Guy Mitchell scored the #1 pop hit with the song, but Robbins’s recording crossed over to the pop chart and made the Top 40. He did even better with “A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins), which hit #1 in the country charts in May 1957, made the pop Top Ten, and sold a million copies.

For the next five years Robbins recorded a series of country #1 hits that also made the Top 40 of the pop charts. They were: “The Story of My Life” (music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David) in January 1958; “Just Married” (music and lyrics by Al Allen and Barry DeVorzon) in May 1958; “El Paso” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in December 1959; “Don’t Worry” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in February 1961; “Devil Woman” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in September 1962; and “Ruby Ann” (music and lyrics by Roberta Bellamy) in January 1963. Of these, the most significant was the story-song “El Paso,” which also topped the pop charts in January 1960, winning a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance and being featured on the million-selling album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs;”Devil Woman” earned Robbins a Grammy nomination for Best Country & Western Recording.

Though his records did not cross over as successfully after 1963, Robbins continued to score hits on the country charts through the rest of the 1960s, notably reaching #1 with “Begging to You” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in February 1964, “Ribbon of Darkness” (music and lyrics by Gordon Lightfoot) in June 1965, “Tonight Carmen” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in July 1967, and “I Walk Alone” (music and lyrics by Herbert Wilson) in November 1968. He began to suffer health problems, suffering a first heart attack in October 1968 and a second in August 1969, and undergoing triple-bypass surgery in January 1970. Nevertheless, he continued to work steadily; in 1969, Frankie Laine scored a Top 40 pop hit and Johnny Bush a Top Ten country hit with his composition “You Gave Me a Mountain,” which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Song and became a regular part of Elvis Presley’s repertoire.

Robbins returned to the top of the country charts and had his biggest pop hit in seven years with “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins) in May 1970; it won him his second Grammy, for Best Country Song. The conclusion of his Columbia contract was marked by the release of the gold-selling compilations Marty Robbins’ Greatest Hits, Vol. III (April 1971) and Marty Robbins’ All-Time Greatest Hits (August 1972), after which he switched to the Decca label, which soon was absorbed into MCA Records. He charted consistently but less successfully with the label and returned to Columbia in 1976, beginning with “El Paso City” (music and lyrics by Marty Robbins), which hit the top of the country charts, as did a similarly titled album. A revival of the 1927 song “Among My Souvenirs” (music by Horatio Nicholls, lyrics by Edgar Leslie) was also a country #1 in 1976.

Robbins continued to reach the country charts for the rest of his life, though less successfully after 1978. He suffered a third heart attack in January 1981 and a fourth and final one in December 1982, dying after surgery at the age of 57. A compilation of his Biggest Hits reached the charts and went gold just after his death.

In addition to his songwriting, recording, and performing, Robbins also acted in more than a dozen low-budget films, mostly Westerns. Among them were Raiders of Old California (1957), The Badge of Marshall Brennan (1957), Road to Nashville (1967), From Nashville with Music (1969), and Guns of a Stranger (1973). His final film appearance was a cameo in Clint Eastwood’s Honky Tonk Man (1982), released shortly after his death; his recording of the title song became his final country Top Ten hit. He also had three syndicated television series: the Western drama The Drifter (1965), the musical-variety program The Marty Robbins Show (1969), and Marty Robbins’ Spotlight (1977–78), a country music version of This Is Your Life.

Writings

The Small Man: A Novel of the Old West (Nashville, 1960).

Discography

Song of Robbins (1957); Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959); More Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1960); The Essential (rec. 1951–82; rel. 1992).

Bibliography

Barbara J. Pruett , Marty Robbins Fast Cars and Country Music (London, 1991).

—William Ruhlmann

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