Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering Marty Robbins

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:

9:30 Kelloggs
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

10:15 Sunbeam
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

10:45 Beechnut
Roy Drusky (host): Fraulein
Connie Smith: Till I Kissed Ya
Crook Brothers: Lafayette
Roy Drusky: Slowly

11:00 Coca-Cola
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

11:30 Bama
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.


  1. Fred in Bismarck here:

    Ah, those 11:30 shows! The Opry still came in loud and clear in those days before all the electronic clutter, even in the remote places we lived, in Wyoming and then North Dakota. And Marty's segment was never to be missed.

    Indeed, Marty's bypass operation was groundbreaking. We were listening (in Wyoming)the night the upcoming operation was announced and heard Roy Acuff say, "I don't believe I'd do that."

    Roy often made gratuitous comments like that, but the operation WAS that new and untried, subject to second-guessing.

    Marty was a bigger star, contributing more of lasting value to country music, than anybody on the scene today, but always found time for the Opry. That's one of the things I love about him to this day.

    Another thing: He and Jim Reeves could be seen as two who, through their pop success, did as much as anybody to change our music. Yet both kept returning to the studio for the occasional country album. RCA thought so little of Reeves' efforts that they confined his new country material to their Camden label. Columbia (and Decca) probably held their noses while following some of Marty's interests, but follow them they did.

    Nice tribute, Byron!

    1. Thank you, For your kind words about Marty. He sure was a fan favourite.

    2. Beautiful article. Tough holdin back the tears. Marty Robbins & Faron Young, my country favs.

  2. I THINK he had one of the first dozen or so bypasses. Well, last year, my father had a quadruple bypass, and it's a far less dangerous procedure. Amazing, isn't it? I guess one way to look at it is that he got about 12-13 years he--and we--wouldn't have had otherwise.

    Byron, a great tribute.

  3. Fred again:

    Byron, I went back to your September Ernest Tubb tribute to confirm this, and sure enough: Both Ernest and Marty made their last Opry appearances in August 1982, a couple of weeks apart.

    Can you imagine the tears, if people had only known?

  4. Yep Fred, Ernest's last Opry show was on Saturday August 14, just 2 weeks before Marty's.


  5. I would have loved to have seen Marty Robbins on the Opry. I have seen a few video clips of him performing in concert, and he really knew how to put on a show. I'm glad he was inducted into the Hall of Fame while he was still living.

  6. One of my favorite memories is having lunch with Marty in Madison, Wisconsin, the summer before he passed away. I was spending my summers working for a concert promoter who booked the talent a numerous fairs in the Midwest and we did a lot of shows with Marty in the 2 years before his death so I would occasionally run into the talent in the coffee shop at the hotel. That day, Marty was there by himself and invited me to join him and we spent the next hour or so shooting the breeze about anything and everything. The guys in his band were a lot of fun, too, particular the drummer, Bill Martinez, and the trumpet player, Wayne Jackson (a member of the famous "Memphis Horns"). They always treated me like one of the guys even though I was just a lowly punk "go-fer" and that always impressed me. Marty was as shy and quiet offstage as he was outgoing onstage and I always looked forward to working for him. There was never any drama or "star-itis" around those guys. Every show was different...the only thing anybody ever knew was that he would open with "Singing the Blues" and close with "El Paso" and between those two songs almost anything could happen. Marty was usually having more fun than the audience. I remember the day of his funeral. It was cold, dark and rainy in Nashville which pretty much summed things up, especially around the Opry. That 11:30 show was never the same again. I doesn't seem like it's been almost 30 years, does it?

    1. Barry,that was so kind. I saw Marty @ G.O.O. in 67. I was 17 & loved my R N R music. I went with my best friend & her family. We weren't overly joyed or didn't even know what stars would be there. As it turns out the only star I remember from that night is Marty. He was wearing a bright green short jacket & green pants to match. What a voice, the Godfather of all music. LOVE THAT MARTY!

  7. I attended the last Saturday Night 'Opry at the old Ryman before the big move to the 'Opry house.
    Marty, of course, closed the show. I could sense that he really didn't want to ever quit singing at the old Ryman.
    Marty was the best.

  8. Hi my name is Alice and I was lucky enough to see Marty many times in Scotland, ( my home land ) England, Canada and of course in Nashville. I was also at the Opry on August 28. 1982. I still have the souvinor program.
    The last time I seen Marty was in New Castle Pa on November 27 1982. Who knew what would happen a short 3 months later I like everyone else can not believe this Saturday he has been gone 30 years. It took me years to play any of his music, but gradually I did and it did help.
    Miss you soon much Marty....

    1. Alice, my mother saw Marty Robbins in New Castle PA and your post is the only one we found referencing that performance. Your post says Nov. 27, 1982 and that "3 months later" he was gone. Should that have said 3 weeks or was the date of the performance possibly incorrect ? She was wondering if that was his last show. Thanks

  9. I only can say that it was Marty Robbins who brought Country Music to me. I was a child when I heard "The Hanging Tree" first and from that on I was a CM-fan. Also very lucky to have seen my star on stage in '82 on the CM-Festival in Germany.
    His songs are still heard in my house.

  10. Other sources indicate that Marty did run 3 races after his second heart attack, including the last one, the Atlanta Journal 500, on Nov 7, 1982. A great musician and a better race driver than most people ever realized. Drivers that ran with him say that he could have been a serious contender if that had been his only career. But we are all glad that he did not make that choice.

  11. Marty Robbins still sends me into a tail spin, I love the 'Man and his Music'. His songs and videos have gotten me through a lot of very dark years. I couldn't name a favorite, but 'Jolie Girl' comes to mind as one I would have loved to see break the bank. Marty has been gone a long, long time but in my house he is still very much alive. RIP my hears dear, dear friend.

  12. That last sentence should have read 'Hearts' not hears.

  13. I like everyone else can not believe that tomorrow Marty has been gone 35 years. Still miss him so much

  14. I have listened to Marty's music everyday since 1975 and have brought his music to the attention to so many friends and family members and they really love Marty as well. You were and still are my Hero Marty. You will never be forgotten.

  15. I have been watching video clips of Marty. I particularly like the one at the Port where someone is trying to end the show and he goes over to them and tells them off!! He sang "Lord you gave me a Mountain"so differently to Elvis but in his own style and as he would say he wrote it and could sing it how he wanted. Could anyone tell me who the man was that seemed to look after him on stage?. Marty would hand him his guitar and the guy also sang on El Paso as backing. I have tried to Google it but can't find anything.

    1. To answer your question, that man was Don Winters, who spent many years singing harmony with Marty!

  16. December 08 is a bittersweet day for me.
    02/08/1980 John Lennon passed away
    12/08/1982 Marty Robbins passed away
    12/08/2006 My Mother passed away
    12/08/2009 My Granddaughter was born.

    I saw Marty at the GOO 12/1967, I don't remember who else was on the show (I wonder why?). Marty wore a lime green short cropped jacket, lime green shirt and lime green trousers. I can close my eyed and see him standing there playing that tiny guitar and that big beautiful smile. I love you Marty Robbins, you are my favorite singer fron any genre!

  17. Thank you Byron for posting this info. I was lucky to be in the 2nd row at the Opry on Aug 28th, and remember Marty stole the night. Your list did however indicate the greats that I got to see as well.