A pioneer in both country and rock and roll music, and the father of the country music concept album, Marty Robbins expanded the both the scope and reach of country music throughout his four decade career.
Robbins was one of ten children, raised in Phoenix, Arizona. His Native American grandmother kept him riveted with stories of the American West, and a stint in the military found him stationed in Hawaii, where he developed a taste for island music. When he left the forces, he played local clubs around Phoenix, eventually becoming the host of a local television show.
Little Jimmy Dickens was a guest one week, and when he went back to Nashville, he promoted Robbins within the industry. Robbins began appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, and started his lifelong relationship with Columbia Records. After a few false starts, he broke through big with the #1 hit “I’ll Go on Alone” in 1952. Though the traditional country sounds of that hit were typical of the time, he was soon bringing a pop sheen to crossover hits like “A White Sports Coat” and “Singing the Blues.”
His penchant for Western stories inspired him to record the lengthy “El Paso”, which was a massive hit, topping the pop charts and earning him a Grammy award. The popularity of the song resulted in a pair of concept albums. Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was the first high-profile country concept album, and scored him an additional classic hit with “Big Iron.” A sequel to the set, released one year later, earned Robbins another Grammy, and he had another big pop hit with “Don’t Worry” in 1961. This hit was notable for accidentally introducing the “guitar fuzz” sound, a production error that many musicians would choose to intentionally replicate, especially toward the end of the sixties.
Robbins had such a high profile that he was a regular on television shows in the sixties and seventies, eventually hosting his own show for many years. He had additional signature hits with “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife”, a powerful ballad that won him another Grammy in 1970, and the popular sequel to his classic hit, “El Paso City”, in which the narrator imagines himself the reincarnate of the original gunfighter.
Robbins also made a big name for himself on the NASCAR circuit, racing competitively as soon as he’d made enough money to finance the hobby. Health struggles plagued Robbins, and he was the first person to have a triple bypass surgery. After recovering from another heart attack in 1981, Robbins had yet another heart attack in December 1982. Although his quadruple bypass initially seemed promising, he never recovered, passing away at the age of 57, a mere seven weeks after he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- I’ll Go on Alone, 1952
- Singing the Blues, 1956
- A White Sports Coat (and a Pink Carnation), 1956
- El Paso, 1959
- Big Iron, 1960
- Don’t Worry, 1961
- Ribbon of Darkness, 1965
- My Woman, My Woman, My Wife, 1969
- Among My Souvenirs, 1976
- Rock’n Roll’n Robbins, 1955
- Songs of the Islands, 1957
- Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, 1959
- Devil Woman, 1962
- Return of the Gunfighter, 1963
- The Drifter, 1966
- El Paso City, 1976
Next: #15. Conway Twitty
Previous: #17. Kenny Rogers