Perhaps best known for his songs celebrating the American West.
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”, became 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.
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. Robbins grew up 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, who was a local medicine man. At 17, Robbins left his troubled home 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, and came to love Hawaiian music.
Robbins married Marizona “Mari” Baldwin on September 27, 1948. They had two children, Ronny and Janet, and were married 34 years until his death. After his discharge from the military in 1947 and his marriage the following year, Robbins began to play at local venues in Phoenix, 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. 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’ of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Robbins belonged to the Jim Reeves era and he wore his embroidered cowboy suits proudly. Best known for the western ballad, El Paso, his career also touched the rock ‘n’ roll side of country in songs like White Sports Coat And A Pink Carnation, and he 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, Robbins was an avid race car driver, competing in 35 career NASCAR Grand National (now Monster Energy Cup) races with six top-10 finishes, including the 1973 Firecracker 400. In 1967, Robbins played himself in the car racing film Hell on Wheels. Robbins was partial to Dodges prepared by NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Cotton Owens, and owned and raced Chargers and then a 1978 Dodge Magnum. He was also the driver of the 60th Indianapolis 500 Buick Century pace car in 1976. 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.