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Many of those who loved his music may find it difficult to believe that seventeen years have elapsed since Marty Robbins' death. Still, the rather ironic title of his final in 1982 says it all. "Some Memories Just Won't Die".
Today, the once popular term, country and western is considered dated by many aficionados, the shorter country music being preferred. However perhaps the former more aptly describes a lot of Marty's songs, to listen to them, being to smell the gunsmoke, although it must be remembered that he was an extremely versatile performer, ranging from rock and roll to Hawaiian music and enjoying several cross-over hits.
For Marty Robbins, it all began on the 26th September 1925. Born Martin David Robinson, near Glendale, Arizona, in common with many of the stars of country music, his background was one of extreme poverty. There were bright spots though. His obvious fascination with the Wild West began with the stories of his grandfather, Texas Bob Heckle, then a traveling medicine man, but a former ranger. Young Martin's hero was Gene Autry. As a young boy of no more than ten or eleven years of age, he'd do odd jobs to earn the money to go to see Autry's films in the nearest town, thinking nothing of walking the eight-mile homeward journey in the dark.
Following a somewhat wild adolescence, his parents divorcing when he was twelve years old. Martin joined the navy. He served in World War II, transporting soldiers to the Solomon Islands. It was at this time that he began playing guitar and singing. A brief visit to the Hawaiian Islands marked the birth of a love for the native music, which would feature strongly in his future career.
Martin and Marizona Baldwin, his wife-to-be were twenty and fifteen respectively when they met. Believe it or not, she'd dreamed of marrying a singing cowboy. Ironically though, his first hit, I'll Go On Alone was written in response to her initial dislike of changes in lifestyle wrought as a result of his growing fame. Still their marriage was to last for thirty-three years until death seperated them, probably as much of a feat in the country music world as in other spheres of show business. Their son Ronny was born in 1949. their daughter, Janet ten years later. Janet has embarked on a musical career of her own.
In the late forties, Marty'e fame began in a modest way when, his naval career ended, he joined a radio-station in Mesa, Arizona called KTYL as a broadcaster Then, he was offered a job in a Phoenix Station, KPHO. It was when KPHO opened a television station that he got the chance to present his own show. At this stage, he was extremely shy, something which soon to change quite drastically. The fifteen minute show, Country Caravan went out four times a week and was regarded as a considerable success. He changed his name because of his mother's disapproval of what he was doing.
Marty's big break came when Little Jimmy Dickens guest-starred on Country Caravan in 1949. Recognizing talent when he saw it, the seasoned entertainer introduced Marty to the people at Columbia Records. A contract was signed. It must be said that the recording came very close to not taking place when, not liking any of the twenty songs sent to him by the studio to choose from, Marty wrote four of his own. Happily, Marty's will ultimately prevailed, something which was to set the trend for times to come. His first two singles met with little success. but the third, I'll Go On Alone, released in late 1951, was to be his first hit. It was followed by many more, including Singing The Blues, Don't Worry and, of course El Paso.
If Marty suffered from shyness in the beginning, this didn't continue to be a problem for too long. Early in his performing career, when the audience's response fell short of his expectations, he'd move to the side of the stage and applaud himself, encouraging them to join in. The fans loved it and it became an established part of his show. When fans would approach the stage to take his photo, he'd make faces at them, even being known to produce a camera himself.
It wasn't long before Marty had a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry. Because of this he moved to Nashville with Marizona and Ronny. In order to facilitate his other interest of motor racing, a sport in which he competed with no small degree of success, he was given the 11.30 to midnight slot, although his performance often exceeded the allotted time by up to an hour. Here, as in other areas of his life, his attitude was that rules were made to be broken. Trumpet-players weren't allowed on the Opry stage, but Marty wanted a trumpet-player, and a trumpet-player Marty had to have. Dedicated to his fans, he'd stay behind to sign autographs and talk to up to 400-500 people.
It was 1959, when he brought out a collection of gunfighter ballads that Marty got the chance to record the hugely successful El Paso. Then, he brought it out on a single. Previously, it had been felt that, running to over four minutes, it was too long. On the B side of El Paso, there was a shortened version, but it was the un- abridged version that the DJs opted for. It went to No.1 in both country and pop charts, becoming the first country single to win a Grammy Award. Both the single and album went gold.
While his musical career went from strength to strength, and he featured in many movies as well as singing, suffering three heart attacks in all, the last of which was to cost him his life. The first took place in 1969. Marty Robbins has a place in medical history, having been the fifteenth person to a have by-pass and the first to have a triple one. The operation was in its experimental stages, but he was given no more than a year to live if he didn't have one. He was under doctors orders to take it easy from then on, but typically Marty's response was a heightened resolve to live life to the fullest.
As soon as he was strong enough to lift his arms, he asked for his guitar, saying he'd written a song. The song was My Woman, My Woman, My Wife. His original intention was to give it to Frankie Lane, but Marizona insisted that he record it himself. Her judgement was vindicated when it turned out to be a major hit for him. It was to be his second Gold Single. It was released in 1971.
In 1973, Marty changed from Columbia to MCA. He was to stay with the latter recording company for the next three years. While his records sold moderately well during this period, this was a move he was to regret. In 1975, he returned to Columbia. The following year, he released Among My Souvenirs, his last No.1 hit, although his recordings continued to sell in large quantities.
It was in 1982 that Marty Robbins was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, just a few months before he died on the 8th December of that year. He'd suffered his third heart attack, having had his second the previous year. His chances of surviving emergency surgery has risen from 5% to 50%, but alas, it was not to be.
Perhaps the last word on Marty Robbins should be left to another star of the world of country music, Merle Haggard, who said of him at the time of his death. I am certain that Marty was one of God's truly gifted. The whole world is saddened at his passing, but the whole universe will be rejoicing at the arrival of such a beautiful man.