Marty Robbins' death: On this day in country music history

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We've written about Marty Robbins here before, most notably on the anniversary of his recording of the Western revival, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs -- click on over to learn about the history of that seminal album. But this dude's so cool, he warrants mention more than once so today, we mark another occasion entirely: his untimely death.

Now as I understand it, Marty Robbins was in the 1960s one of the first three-hundred or so people to undergo open heart surgery, one of the first fifteen to ever undergo a heart bypass operation, and the first to survive the then risky and experimental triple bypass surgery. Following his operation, doctors told him to chill. But chill was not in Marty Robbins' vocabulary, my friends: he kept on singin' on the stage of the Opry, and he kept driving NASCAR. Yes, you heard me right. Marty Robbins was not only the smooth-singin' country crooner your grandpappy listened to on his radio; he also raced cars.

I mean, why not?

In addition to his recordings, which ran the gamut from Western revival tunes to slick Countrypolitan hits, Robbins was a race car driver and arguably one of the best non-professional racers of his time, competing in 35 career NASCAR races with six Top 10 finishes, including the 1973 Daytona 500. He also blew his competition out of the water in the 1972 Talladega Superspeedway race, turning laps that exceeded his qualifying time by 15 mph...but in a souped-up vehicle. After NASCAR tried to give him the Rookie of the Race award, Robbins declined it, admitting he'd knocked the mandated restrictors out of his carburetor earlier in his motel room because he "just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once." Instead of the award, they fined him $250.

What else is cool about Marty? He was discovered by that adorable shorty Little Jimmy Dickens, topped the charts with your granny's favorite song, "A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)," then inadvertently introduced music nerds everywhere to fuzztone courtesy of a faulty mixing board channel on the 1960 hit "Don't Worry." He won a Grammy for his signature song, "El Paso" - the boringest cool song to ever attempt at karaoke, take note - which was in part inspired by the stories told to him as a child by his Texas Ranger grandfather Texas Bob Heckle. He's found fans in the Grateful Dead (who covered "El Paso,"), the Who (whose 2006 album Endless Wire features the song, "God Speaks of Marty Robbins"), and artists from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley, who both recorded versions of his songs. And on this day in 1982, just two months after his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he couldn't race away fast enough from those heart problems that had plagued him for so long, and died of cardiac arrest, six days after undergoing surgery in Nashville for a massive heart attack.

So in honor of a strange and interesting man with an affinity for fast cars and Hawaiian guitars, we present to you Ten Songs for Marty Robbins, on the occasion of his death.

Devil Woman

Don't Worry

Big Iron


Cool Water



The Cowboy in the Continental Suit



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7 comments
Michael Osborne
Michael Osborne

any man who can sing like that play guitar,and drive in the nascar series is a big hero of mine, rest in peace marty and may you never be forgotten,Your racin colors remind me of mike Garbac who passed also way to young as result of a racing accident >>

Joyce Ward
Joyce Ward

Posting left out a word in my last comment:  "My son, Marty, is now 47 years old and every time I speak his name, Marty Robbins LIVES...in my heart."  

Joyce Ward
Joyce Ward

In 1963, I was a senior in high school when I first heard Marty Robbins sing on the radio.  I fell in love for the first time with his voice and will forever remember him.  I vowed then and there that when I married, I would name my first son after him....and I DID...!  My son, Marty, is now 47 years old and every time I speak his name, Marty Robbins ....in my heart.  Thanks for the memories and this page.  Joyce Ward.

Irene Arnault
Irene Arnault

Marty Robbins was one of the best, there must be more Videos out there of live preformance, would be great if they would post them so we could enjoy this all time Great, I Love all his songs and its great to see him preform them on stage.

Dave Hoenack
Dave Hoenack

Great post, Nikki!  Thanks.  Marty Robbins is one of the very best.  Two other all-time favorites of mine:  His '76 track "El Paso City", in which he's flying over west Texas and recollects his own song. 

"I don't remember who wrote the song," he sings!

And there's a double album of alternates and outtakes called "Long, Long Ago" - It's a little glimpse of Marty in the studio, reckless as he was always a professional.

Diane Diekman
Diane Diekman

Great article! Thanks for keeping Marty's music and memory alive. You might be interested in his biography, "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins" by Diane Diekman, which will be published in late February 2012 by the University of Illinois Press.

Scoops
Scoops

I've always loved that song El Paso. The Dead's version kicks ass!  Interesting article. 

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