Marty Robbins in 1959 (AP Photo)
Marty Robbins was multitalented with a diverse career that defied boundaries. As a singer and songwriter, he became one of the top country stars of the 1960s and '70s. Many would be satisfied with a successful recording career, but not Robbins. At the height of his success, the Nashville star made the jump to NASCAR and added race car driver to his resume. On the 30th anniversary of his death, we're looking at both sides of Marty Robbins – country crooner and "hell on wheels."
Before Robbins became a Nashville superstar, he was recording songs that weren't quite country – more like easy listening. But they were great, and they showed a glimpse of the mellow country tunes in Robbins's future – especially songs like the million-seller "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation."
Robbins broke into the country scene with the tune that would become his signature song, "El Paso." The classic story song inspired Robbins to write two sequels, and many other artists to cover it – and spoof it. Steve Martin for one created a bizarrely compelling video for the song, featuring the wildest chimps in the west.
In 1967, Robbins – an avid auto racing fan – did what NASCAR followers everywhere dream of: he became a NASCAR driver himself. With money to spare and nerves of steel, Robbins bought a few Dodge racecars – he favored the Charger and the Magnum – and joined the NASCAR circuit. Though he never took home the glory of a win, he had several top ten finishes. His racing career even helped him break into the movies – he played himself in the film Hell on Wheels.
Marty Robbins has been honored for his many-faceted career – a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he's also the namesake of the annual NASCAR race in Nashville, the Marty Robbins 420. Sadly, Robbins died young, at age 57 of complications following cardiac surgery. Had he lived longer, we wonder what he would have done next …
Written by Linnea Crowther