Friday, December 4, 2009


A days ago, we started a brief discussion in Forgotten Hits about the career of Country Superstar Marty Robbins. One of the folks who responded was Diane Diekman, who just happens to be writing Marty's biography right now. We asked if she'd be willing to share a few interesting facts about Marty's phenomenal career with our Forgotten Hits Readers ... and fortunately, for ALL of us, she complied ...

Before we give you just a brief "teaser" / overview in advance of her upcoming book, here's a recap of what got us here in the first place!

>>>I want to talk about Marty Robbins. I always liked his music. I just watched the DVD Marty Robbins Music Anthology. I now think he is vastly underrated. He plays guitar & piano. Writes music & books. He also did some acting. Lets concentrate on his music . Marty sings Country, Rock-n-Roll, R&B, Gospel. He even recorded 2 Albums of Hawaiian Music. He died at 57, during a Heart Operation. I'd like to know what you & your readers think of Marty Robbins. (Frank B.)

>>>In addition to placing nearly 100 songs on Billboard's Country Music Chart, Marty also had several cross-over hits in the late '50's and early '60's, most notably the chart-topping "El Paso" and The Top Three Hits "A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation" (1957) and "Don't Worry" (1961). Marty hit Billboard's Pop Top 40 a total of 13 times. Other hits included his version of the #1 Guy Mitchell Hit "Singing The Blues" (#26, 1956); "Big Iron" (also #26, 1960); "Ballad Of The Alamo" (from the John Wayne film, #34, 1960); "Devil Woman" (#16, 1962) and "Ruby Ann" (#18, 1962). His last pop hit just missed The Top 40 when "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" peaked at #42. Personally, I'm just a "casual" fan ... but I'm guessing that some of our list members could rattle off some astounding facts on Marty Robbins. Let's see what comes back! Thanks, Frank! (kk)

Thanks for mentioning Marty Robbins. I've been a fan of his all my life and now I'm his biographer. His songwriting and singing talents were truly amazing, not to mention everything else he could do, such as compete in NASCAR races. I think he'd have many, many, many new fans today if they could hear his music. It's timeless and reaches far beyond country music. I've set a goal of publishing "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins" in 2012. Just as a note, his version of "Singing The Blues" came before the cover by Guy Mitchell. And extremely unusual is the fact that 1960 arrived with "El Paso" in the number one spot on both country and pop Billboard charts. Yeah, Marty!
(Diane Diekman)
Author of "Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story"

Thanks so much for taking the time to write to us, Diane! I'm sure our readers would enjoy a simple "overview" of Marty's career (if you'd be willing to share it with us!!!) Near as I can determine, Marty released "Singing The Blues" first, but it failed to make much of an impression on the pop charts. Then, when Guy Mitchell's version started its climb to #1, Columbia Records re-released Marty's version, which ultimately peaked at #26 on their Pop Chart. (Would love to hear more about THAT story, too!!!) Please keep us posted on your biography ... I'm sure that a number of our readers would enjoy reading it. (And, with all these music /movie bio-pics making their way to the big screen these days, who KNOWS where this might all end up ... ESPECIALLY with a story as fascinating ... and a career as varied ... as Marty Robbins' was!!!) kk

>>>Another great edition, Kent, and my thanks for your ten years of dedication to our fabulous oldies music. I know it's a 'labor of love,' as are the comments, Q & A, tributes, and 'war stories' that the readers send it. I get behind from time to time and forget to check out your site, but when I do, there's always a few surprises, and some great memories from others many others who not only 'talk the talk,' but have also 'walked the walk.' :) That's one of the things that make "FH" so real. These are real stories from folks who actually witnessed them. 2010 marks my 53rd year in radio and records. Starting as radio station gopher at KRAK Radio, Sacramento, in 1957, I was just a twelve year old kid who lived 'music.'It was a 'singles' music industry then, and many of us got our musical education listening to the radio. The Top 40 stations introduced us to more than rock and roll, although that genre certainly dominated the airwaves. But we were also introduced to jazz, listening to a Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" or Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." We were introduced to Latin and Salsa music with huge hits like Perez Prado's two #1's, "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" and "Patricia." Calypso music was represented by Harry Belefante's "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," The Weavers introduced us to traditional folk music, while Jimmie "Oh Oh" Rodgers introduced us to the more contemporary style. And who can forget the Kingston Trio's folksy "Tom Dooley." Red Foley introduced us to gospel music with "Peace In The Valley" and Bo Diddley introduced us to blues. And then there was 'country.' Johnny Cash, Don Gibson, and others had solid Top 40 hits that had crossed over from country radio. After all, in the 50's there were fewer than 80 full time country music radio stations in America. Frank's kind words this weekend regarding the great Marty Robbins hit a 'home run' with me. I was not a close friend of Marty, but I was certainly influenced by his music, enormous talent and great vocals. I saw him at the Ryman Auditorium in the late 60's, early 70's, when I was managing The Beach Boys -- and was fortunate to fly out to LA on the plane with him from Nashville. Marty was, in my opinion, the best overall 'entertainer' on the Grand Ole Opry ... and I've seen a lot of great entertainers on that stage. Had Columbia's legendary A & R chief, Mitch Miller, not covered Marty's version of "Singing The Blues" with another Columbia artist, Guy Mitchell, it would have been an even bigger hit, as would "Heartaches By The Number," by Ray Price, which Guy also covered.Few people know that Marty's 1957 #1, "The Story of My Life," pretty much launched the careers of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I'm glad that Marty was fortunate to live long enough to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982. It was a close call. He died barely six weeks later. Unfortunately, that is not the case with another country superstar of the late 50's, early 60's, Johnny Horton. Just as "The Crickets" have been repeatedly overlooked by the Rock Hall, and Roger Maris has been overlooked by the Baseball HOF, Johnny has yet to receive country music's highest honor. His single, "The Battle of New Orleans," was not only one of the most requested records at radio in the entire decade of the 50's, but it was the first 'country' song, by a country artist, to win a Grammy Award as "Best Country and Western Performance" at the 1960 ceremony. It was not the first actual Country Grammy awarded. That distinction actually went to a 'folk' song, The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" the year before. However, Johnny got the last laugh: In Billboard Magazine's ranking of the top songs for the first fifty years of the Billboard Top 100 chart, "The Battle of New Orleans" is ranked #28 and is the top 'country' song listed.Yes, listening to Top 40 radio in the 50's certainly gave us a well-rounded musical education. The kids of today are nowhere near as fortunate. (Fred Vail / Treasure Isle Recorders)

After Diane saw Fred's comments, she told me that, although the two had never met, she DID do a radio interview with him at one time, discussing Marty's incredible career.

Now, for your reading enjoyment, just a brief overview of Marty Robbin's amazing career ... in and outside the music business. VERY special thanks to Diane Diekman for sharing this with our Forgotten Hits Readers! (kk)

Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, the famous western music album by Marty Robbins, has been on the market for fifty years now. The hit song, "El Paso," held the number one spot on both pop and country music charts as the nation moved from 1959 into 1960. Marty Robbins wrote, recorded and performed hundreds of songs during his three-decade career. His albums usually centered on a specific theme, frequently western songs or country ballads, but also jazz, rockabilly, Hawaiian, pop, gospel, Christmas, Mexican, and West Indian music.

Although Marty and his staff wrote most of his songs, he was willing to record any song he liked, regardless of who owned the publishing rights. His number one hits included Gordon Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness," "The Story of My Life" by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and an old Connie Francis hit, "Among My Souvenirs." He experimented with recording styles as well as with songs. "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)" became a smash hit because he brought it to New York City to be shaped by Mitch Miller and Ray Coniff. Marty's "You Gave Me a Mountain" was a hit for Frankie Laine and Elvis Presley.

Marty loved performing and was in his element while singing onstage and encouraging audience adulation. The same man who would make silly faces, yell "Don't! Don't stop!" when a crowd applauded, and wave his arms for more applause, was a deeply insecure and private individual. When he played the piano and sang "I Walk Alone" in the recording studio, he thought the producer was ridiculing his piano playing by saying, "It's a hit!" Columbia Records released that first take, and it became a number one record.

As his biographer, I've had to really dig to find human flaws. He didn't drink or smoke or cheat on his wife, and he appeared to be universally loved and admired by fans, friends, and employees. His wonderful sense of humor and considerate treatment of others are the comments I usually hear. He was a perfectionist who could sometimes be difficult to work with, and he had a volatile temper that cooled over the years.

In addition to music, he was passionate about racing cars. Along with his fulltime performing and publishing careers, he improved his driving skills to move up from micro-midgets to late model sportsman stockcars to competing on the NASCAR circuit. He finished fifth and seventh in races against the Pettys and Allisons and other top drivers. This was after heart bypass surgery.

Marty Robbins was 57 years old when his third heart attack took his life on December 8, 1982, six weeks after induction into Country Music Hall of Fame. My publication goal for Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins is 2012, the thirtieth anniversary of his death. I welcome hearing from anyone who has information to contribute to the book. Meanwhile, out in the West Texas town of El Paso . . . Marty's music plays on.
Diane Diekman

"El Paso" is an absolute classic ... I can't think of ANY other song that ever evoked such a vivid musical landscape of the old west ... it's no wonder at all that this one reached the top spot on both the Pop and Country Charts.

GREAT stuff, Diane ... thank you again SO much for sharing this with our readers!

El Paso: #1 Pop, #1 Country, 1960

A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation): #2 Pop, #1 Country, 1957

I Walk Alone: #65 Pop, #1 Country, 1968