Marty Robbins' death: On this day in country music history

We've written about Marty Robbins here before, most notably on the anniversary of his recording of the Western revival, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs -- click on over to learn about the history of that seminal album. But this dude's so cool, he warrants mention more than once so today, we mark another occasion entirely: his untimely death.

Now as I understand it, Marty Robbins was in the 1960s one of the first three-hundred or so people to undergo open heart surgery, one of the first fifteen to ever undergo a heart bypass operation, and the first to survive the then risky and experimental triple bypass surgery. Following his operation, doctors told him to chill. But chill was not in Marty Robbins' vocabulary, my friends: he kept on singin' on the stage of the Opry, and he kept driving NASCAR. Yes, you heard me right. Marty Robbins was not only the smooth-singin' country crooner your grandpappy listened to on his radio; he also raced cars.

I mean, why not?

In addition to his recordings, which ran the gamut from Western revival tunes to slick Countrypolitan hits, Robbins was a race car driver and arguably one of the best non-professional racers of his time, competing in 35 career NASCAR races with six Top 10 finishes, including the 1973 Daytona 500. He also blew his competition out of the water in the 1972 Talladega Superspeedway race, turning laps that exceeded his qualifying time by 15 mph...but in a souped-up vehicle. After NASCAR tried to give him the Rookie of the Race award, Robbins declined it, admitting he'd knocked the mandated restrictors out of his carburetor earlier in his motel room because he "just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once." Instead of the award, they fined him $250.

What else is cool about Marty? He was discovered by that adorable shorty Little Jimmy Dickens, topped the charts with your granny's favorite song, "A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)," then inadvertently introduced music nerds everywhere to fuzztone courtesy of a faulty mixing board channel on the 1960 hit "Don't Worry." He won a Grammy for his signature song, "El Paso" - the boringest cool song to ever attempt at karaoke, take note - which was in part inspired by the stories told to him as a child by his Texas Ranger grandfather Texas Bob Heckle. He's found fans in the Grateful Dead (who covered "El Paso,"), the Who (whose 2006 album Endless Wire features the song, "God Speaks of Marty Robbins"), and artists from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley, who both recorded versions of his songs. And on this day in 1982, just two months after his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he couldn't race away fast enough from those heart problems that had plagued him for so long, and died of cardiac arrest, six days after undergoing surgery in Nashville for a massive heart attack.

So in honor of a strange and interesting man with an affinity for fast cars and Hawaiian guitars, we present to you Ten Songs for Marty Robbins, on the occasion of his death.

Devil Woman

Don't Worry

Big Iron

Cool Water
The Cowboy in the Continental Suit
 Singing the Blues

A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)

Merle and Marty


El Paso

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