Marty Robbins

Marty Robbins

Robbins in 1966.
Background information
Birth name Martin David Robinson
Born (1925-09-26)September 26, 1925
Glendale, Arizona, U.S.
Died December 8, 1982(1982-12-08) (aged 57)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Genres Country, western, rockabilly[1]
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, actor, NASCAR driver
Instruments Guitar, piano, dobro, vocals
Years active 1948–1982
Labels Columbia, Decca

Martin David Robinson (September 26, 1925 – December 8, 1982), known professionally as 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, Robbins often topped the country music charts, and several of his songs also had crossover success as pop hits.


Robbins was born in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix in Maricopa County, Arizona. His mother was mostly of Paiute Indian heritage.[2] Robbins was reared in a difficult family situation. His father took odd jobs to support the family of 10 children, but his drinking led to divorce in 1937. Among his warmer memories of his childhood, Robbins recalled having listened to stories of the American West told by his maternal grandfather, Texas Bob Heckle.[3] Robbins left the troubled home at 17 to serve in the United States Navy as an LCT coxswain during World War II. He was stationed in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. To pass the time during the war, he learned to play the guitar, started writing songs,[4] and came to love Hawaiian music.

After his discharge from the military in 1947, he began to play at local venues in Phoenix,[4] then moved on to host his own show on KTYL and then his own television show on KPHO-TV in Phoenix. After Little Jimmy Dickens made a guest appearance on Robbins' TV show, Dickens got Robbins a record deal with Columbia Records. Robbins became known for his appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

In addition to his recordings and performances, Robbins was an avid race car driver, competing in 35 career NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races with six top-10 finishes,[5] including the 1973 Firecracker 400.[6] In 1967, Robbins played himself in the car racing film Hell on Wheels.[7] Robbins was partial to Dodges prepared by NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Cotton Owens, and owned and raced Chargers and then a 1978 Dodge Magnum. His race cars were two-toned magenta and chartreuse and carried car number 42. His last race was in a Junior Johnson-built 1982 Buick Regal in the Atlanta Journal 500 on November 7, 1982, the month before his death. In 1983, NASCAR honored Robbins by naming the annual race at Nashville the Marty Robbins 420. He was also the driver of the 60th Indianapolis 500 Buick Century pace car in 1976. In 1980, he appeared on the PBS music program Austin City Limits during Season 5.

He ran many of the big super-speedway races including Talladega Superspeedway in 1972, when he stunned the competition by turning laps that were 15 mph faster than his qualifying time. Apparently, in his motel room, Robbins had knocked the NASCAR-mandated restrictors out of his carburetor. After the race, NASCAR tried to give him the Rookie of the Race award, but Robbins would not accept it, admitting he was illegal because he "just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once."

Robbins was awarded an honorary degree by Northern Arizona University.


Robbins had a history of cardiovascular disease. After his third heart attack on December 2, 1982, he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery. He did not recover and died six days later on December 8, 1982 at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. He was 57 years old.[8]

Music and honors

Robbins' 1957 recording of "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation"[4] sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record.[9] His musical accomplishments include the Grammy Award for his 1959 hit and signature song "El Paso", taken from his album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. "El Paso" was the first song to hit No. 1 on the pop chart in the 1960s. It was followed up, successfully, by "Don't Worry", which reached No. 3 on the pop chart in 1961, becoming his third, and last, Top 10 pop hit. "El Paso" was followed by one prequel and one sequel: "Feleena" and "El Paso City". Also in 1961, Robbins wrote the words and music and recorded "I Told the Brook,"[10] a ballad later recorded by Billy Thorpe.

He won the Grammy Award for the Best Country & Western Recording 1961, for his follow-up album More Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1970, for "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife". Robbins was named Artist of the Decade (1960–1969) by the Academy of Country Music, was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982, was rewarded three awards at the 17th Annual Music City News Country Awards in 1983, and was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998 for his song "El Paso".

Robbins was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975. For his contribution to the recording industry, Robbins has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6666 Hollywood Blvd.

Robbins has been honored by many bands, including the Grateful Dead who covered "El Paso" and Bob Weir & Kingfish who covered "Big Iron". The Who's 2006 album Endless Wire includes the song "God Speaks of Marty Robbins". 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."[11] The Beasts of Bourbon released a song called "The Day Marty Robbins Died" on their 1984 debut album The Axeman's Jazz. Johnny Cash recorded a version of "Big Iron" as part of his American Recordings series, which is included in the Cash Unearthed box set. 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. Johnny Cash also recorded other songs by Robbins including 'I Couldn't Keep From Crying', 'Kate' and 'Song Of The Patriot.' Marty was held in high estimation by Cash, having him guest 4 times on his network TV show. Elvis was another fan of Robbins, yet never recorded any song of his in the studio,'You Gave A Mountain' was recorded several times 'live' in concert however and has appeared on around 15 Presley albums.

When Robbins was recording his 1961 hit "Don't Worry", session guitarist Grady Martin accidentally created the electric guitar "fuzz" effect – his six-string bass was run through a faulty channel in a mixing console. Marty decided to keep it in the final version.[12] The song reached No. 1 on the country chart, and No. 3 on the pop chart.[13]

Robbins' song "Big Iron", originally released on his 1959 album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, gained renewed popularity following its use in the video game Fallout: New Vegas.

His song "El Paso" was featured on the series finale of the AMC TV series Breaking Bad. 'El Paso' was also featured in the 'Only Fools And Horses' prequel made by the BBC.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career
35 races run over 13 years
Best finish 5th (1974)
First race 1966 Nashville 400 (Nashville)
Last race 1982 Atlanta Journal 500 (Atlanta)
Wins Top tens Poles
0 6 0
NASCAR Grand National East Series career
1 race run over 1 year
First race 1972 Gamecock 200 (Columbia)
Last race 1972 Gamecock 200 (Columbia)
Wins Top tens Poles
0 1 0
Statistics current as of August 19, 2016.

Robbins loved NASCAR racing and as he had the funds to do so, he raced occasionally. His cars were built and maintained by Cotton Owens. Robbins always tried to run at the big race tracks (Talladega Superspeedway, Daytona International Speedway) every year, and then a smattering of the smaller races when time permitted. In 1983, one year after Robbins' death, NASCAR named the Nashville Fair Grounds race the Marty Robbins 420 in honor of him. Robbins typically ran cars bearing either number 42, number 22, or number 777. Over the years, he ran a few makes and models (Plymouths, Dodges or Fords) before buying a 1972 bodied Dodge Charger race car from Owens. Robbins had 6 top-ten finishes as well as a few major wrecks during the 1970s and had Owens rebuild the car and update the sheet metal to the 1973–1974 Charger specifications, and then finally 1978 Dodge Magnum sheet metal, which he raced till the end of 1980. This car was restored by Owens and donated to the Talladega Museum by his family, and was displayed there from 1983 to 2008; the car is now in private hands in Southern California and raced on the Vintage NASCAR club circuit. Marty is credited with possibly saving Richard Childress' life at the 1974 Charlotte 500 by deliberately crashing into a wall rather than t-bone Childress's car that was stopped across the track.[14] Robbins' final NASCAR race car was a 1981 Buick Regal that he rented and drove in a few races in 1981 and 1982. In 2014, Marty's 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was featured on an episode of Discovery Channels TV show Fat and Furious:Rolling Thunder. In that same year, an episode of Velocity's AmeriCarna featured ex-race team owner Ray Evernham spearheading the restoration of one of Robbins' NASCAR racers, a 1964 Plymouth Belvedere. For the 2016 Darlington throwback weekend, Kyle Larson's No. 42 NASCAR Xfinity Series car was painted purple and gold in honor of Robbins.


Robbins' discography consists of 52 studio albums, 13 compilation albums, and 100 singles. In his career, Robbins has charted 17 Number One singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, as well as 82 Top 40 singles.

Robbins' highest charting album is 1959's Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. It charted to #6 on the all-genre Billboard 200, and was also certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album's first single, "El Paso", become a hit on both the country and pop charts, charting to Number One on the Hot Country Songs as well as the Billboard Hot 100. Although being his only pop Number One, in 1957, "A White Sport Coat" charted to #2, and in 1961, "Don't Worry" charted to #3.

Since his death in 1982, four posthumous studio albums have been released, but they made no impact on the charts.

His final Top 10 single was "Honkytonk Man" in 1982, which is the title of the film Robbins had starred in. However, he died shortly before the release of the film.

Motorsports career results


(key) (Bold – Pole position awarded by qualifying time. Italics – Pole position earned by points standings or practice time. * – Most laps led.)

Grand National Series

Winston Cup Series


  1. Richard S. Ginell. "Ruby Ann: Rockin' Rollin' Robbins, Vol. 3 - Marty Robbins | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  2. Pruett, Barbara J. Marty Robbins: Fast Cars and Country Music. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  3. Rhymes of the Frontier. 1929. Retrieved 2014-10-25.
  4. 1 2 3 Marty Robbins interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  5. "Career Statistics". Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  6. "1973 Medal of Honor Firecracker 400". 1973-07-04. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  7. "Hell on Wheels". Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  8. Pareles, Jon (1982-12-10). "Marty Robbins, Singer, 57; Won a Grammy for 'El Paso'". New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  9. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 95. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  10. "I told the brook [music] / [by] Marty Robbins ; arr. by Alec Baynes | National Library of Australia". Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  11. Archived January 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins - Diane Diekman - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  13. Joel Whitburn's Top Country Singles 1944–2001
  14. "Marty Robbins Saves Life of NASCAR's Richard Childress". Retrieved 2013-09-11.


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