I just wanted to take a moment and remember one of the greatest and most popular Grand Ole Opry members of all time, Marty Robbins, who passed away on December 8, 1982 at the age of 57.
I am not going to give a full biography of Marty as I think everyone pretty well knows his story, but I will say that Martin David Robinson was born on September 26, 1925 in Arizona. He first came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1953 to make a guest appearance, after being brought to the attention of Columbia Records by Jimmy Dickens, who saw him on a television station in Phoenix, where Marty was appearing and hosting a live country music program. He joined the Opry in 1953. He would remain an Opry member until his death.
Like I said, I am not going to do a full biography of Marty, but I do want to share some of Marty's history at the Opry. Early in Marty's Opry career he appeared several times on each Opry show and in various time slots. However, as Marty began to get involved in auto racing, he began appearing only on the 11:30 segment, which quickly grew into a legendary time slot at the Opry.
Opry announcer Hal Durham explained how the Marty Robbins 11:30 Opry show got started: "When I first started announcing, Marty would occasionally work the first show. And then he would go to the racetrack in Nashville and race. And he would come back and do that last show. He wanted to do the last show because it enabled him to race and still work the Opry. I think he was more at ease working that last show. He didn't have the constrictions of time; somebody else waiting in the wings to go on. So when more and more people began expecting him on the last show, he gave up working the first show altogether. And, as the eleven-thirty segment became more and more 'his show,' so to speak, he began to take liberties with the time. Instead of running over five minutes, he'd run over fifteen minutes. Some of the other people grumbled a little bit about it, particuarly if there were down at the Tubb Record Shop show waiting to go on. But we saw that the people at the Ryman enjoyed it very much and we never had any intention of squelching it. The eleven-thirty show with Marty was something very special at the Grand Ole Opry."
Hal Durham also said that Marty realized that as a clear-channel radio station, WSM was at its strongest signal later at night, meaning more people across the country could hear him on the Opry than at an earlier hour. From Hal,"What happened was that none of the artists wanted to do the 11:30 show, cause it was late at night. But from a clear-channel standpoint, the signal was the strongest. The later at night it was, the stronger the signal and the greater the reach. Marty realized that, so he wanted to do the 11:30 show whenever he did the Opry."
Regarding the liberties that Marty was taking with the time, Hal was also quoted as saying, "When he started closing the show, we were still doing live commercials with jingles provided by our artists. The sponsor for that last segement was Lava Soap, and the Willis Brothers did their jingle, so when Marty ran late they'd have to wait around to sing that last commercial. Finally, we put the commericals on tape."
Hal also remembered that Marty would talk to Ernest Tubb on the air. "'Just a couple more songs, Ernest, then we'll turn it over to you.' One night, we taped a thing with Tubb so taht when Marty said that, we'd punch in a tape of Tubb saying 'Okay, Marty, you've had your time. Now it's my turn.' Eventually, we'd punch in a closing of Marty singing 'El Paso' and went to sign-off. At the Opry House, they'd still be watching a Marty Robbins concert, but the radio station would switch to Tubb."
In 1969, Marty suffered a massive heart attack while he was touring in Ohio. He was transfered to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville and given three to six months to live. He became one of the first people in the nation to under go a new operation, which was a triple arterial bypass, which we now know as Open Heart Surgery. The operation was performed on January 27, 1970. On Saturday March 28, he returned to the Opry to host the final half hour of that night's show.
Reporter Jerry Thompson was there: "The sound from the jam-packed crowd was deafening. They couldn't hear the words to the song the familiar figure behind the Opry mike was crooning, but there was no mistake, Marty Robbins was back where he belonged. Midway through the show Robbins sat at the piano and told the audience, 'I had so many things I was going to say tonight. I want to thank all my friends for their concern and I want to thank God for letting me be here. Now, I can't think of anything so say, so I guess I'll have to sing for you.' And sing he did until 12:27 a.m. when the curtain closed amidst repeated shouts of 'More, more, more.' Throughout his performance, a woman in the third row remained in a condition best described as just short of hysteria. She would clap her hands to her cheeks, rise out of her seat and, in a shrill, trembling voice, shout phrases such as, 'Lordy, Lordy!' 'Oh, mercy, Marty!' Or, 'Lordy, I can't hardly stand it!'"
Marty Robbins had once more extended the Opry a half-hour past its assigned off time. Performers waiting at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop to begin the Midnight Jamboree must have smiled; the Grand Ole Opry was once more back to what might have been described as normalcy.
Marty Robbins remained one of the key stars of the Opry as it moved through the 1970s and into the 80s. But his health would remain in question. In January 1981, he suffered another heart attack, which forced him to end his racing career. By March, he was back performing again.
In December 1982, Marty suffered a third heart attack, which required doctors to perform another bypass operation. However the damage was too severe and after an eight and a half hour operation he passed away. His funeral was like nothing ever seen before in Nashville. Thousands of fans decsended at the church, along with almost ever major country music star and Opry member. Many described the scene as being like a circus. Nothing like it has been scene since.
Marty is missed to this day and people who saw him perform one of his 11:30 Opry shows still talk about it today.
The final Opry show that Marty did was on Saturday August 28, 1982. As usual, Marty hosted the 11:30 segment that night. In honor of Marty Robbins, here is the running order of his final Grand Ole Opry show, the 2nd show on August 28:
Porter Wagoner (host): Company's Comin'
4 Guys: Marie, The Dawn Is Breaking
Jean Shepard: I Thought of You/It's Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels/You Win Again/A Dear John Letter
Wilburn Brothers: Arkansas
Skeeter Davis: Satisfied
Mac Magaha: Rocky Top
Porter Wagoner: I've Enjoyed as Much of this as I Can Stand
10:00 Little Debbie
Jimmy C Newman (host): Jambalaya
Lonzo & Oscar: I'm My Own Grandpa
Cajun Country: Cajun Stripper
Grandpa Jones (host): Little Pink
Vic Willis Trio: Last Cheater's Waltz
Ray Pillow: One Too Many Memories
Grandpa Jones: Fallen Leaves
10:30 Martha White
Roy Acuff (host): Back in the Country
Wilma Lee Cooper: When My Time Comes To Go
Del Wood: Keep on the Firing Line
Roy Acuff: Lord, Don't Give up on Me
Roy Drusky (host): Fraulein
Connie Smith: Till I Kissed Ya
Crook Brothers: Lafayette
Roy Drusky: Slowly
Hank Snow (host): Send Me The Pillow You Dream On
Jan Howard: When I Dream
Jim & Jesse: The Major Little Garden
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Sugar Tree Stomp
Justin Tubb: Pull the Covers Over Me
Kirk McGee: St. James Infirmary
Hank Snow: My Happiness
Marty Robbins (host): Ribbon of Darkness
Jeannie Seely: You Don't Need Me But You Will/I'm All Through Crying Over You
Charlie Louvin: I Don't Love You Anymore/Think I'll Go Somewhere and Cry Myself to Sleep/See the Big Man Cry
Bill Carlisle: Have A Drink on Me
Marty Robbins: Don't Worry/Good-Hearted Woman/This is the Moment/Some Memories Just Won't Die/Return to Me/Beyond the Reef/That's All Right/To Get To You/Tonight Carmen/Don't Let M Touch You/Cool Water/18 Yellow Roses/Love Me/El Paso
Yes, Marty did all those songs that final night and his final song was El Paso. He performed until 12:50 a.m.
Marty is sure missed at the Opry and even with some of the more recent members that have come along, I don't think there has been anyone as popular with the fans than Marty Robbins. He was a legend and one of a kind.