Marty Robbins reunites Country and Western on this day in history

Marty Robbins reunites Country and Western on this day in history

Have you seen the excellent blog the good folks at Hymie's find the time to maintain when they're not slinging selections from their collection of some of the most eclectic vinyl in town? I frequently come across their posts, which are impressively regular and even more impressively knowledgeable; if the topic is anything sold originally on vinyl, my guess is its author(s) could school you (and me, I'll humbly and most honestly concede) on pretty much anything you may wish to discuss, including the topic of Marty Robbins.

On this day in 1959, the country and Western singer-songwriter Marty Robbins achieved a feat unimaginable for most contemporary musicians: in a marathon double session he recorded the entirety of his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album, twelve songs in total. This feat is unimaginable because most contemporary musicians don't write and record entire albums devoted to the drama of the West in all its violence and romance, and also unimaginable because so many contemporary musicians become a bunch of whiny bitches the second they hit the recording studio. "No no, do that over again. No no no one more time." Oh, but not Marty. This album, including the hit "El Paso" which was written by Marty in a car as he and his family passed through Texas en route to Arizona, was perhaps inspired by his grandfather "Texas" Bob Heckle, a one-time Texas Ranger and medicine show performer. Also featuring the song "Big Iron," the album peaked at #6 on the U.S. pop charts.

When looking to find out a little more about this day, it came as no surprise to me that Hymie's post on the album was one of the first (and most informative) results that popped up. And so, I refer to their July 30, 2010 blog about Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and the western revival it inspired. It begins, notably, with a little about the Blues Brothers, and then a little about the Dead Kennedys (say what now?):

In a recent post about The Blues Brothers we included the original recording of "Rawhide" from Frankie Laine's Hell Bent for Leather.  Its a pretty good song but largely memorable because of the Blues Brothers revival, and (to a much lesser extent) the Dead Kennedys' spirited cover the following year.  Songs of the wild west seem like they were fleeting fancy for Frankie Laine, and the rest of his album hasn't aged well - For example, his "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'" is a pale imitation of Tex Ritter's haunting classic.

Hell Bent for Leather is also a forgettable foray into the wild west because its always going to be compared to Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which was released two years earlier.  The prolific songwriter Robbins can reasonably be credited with reviving the western in country music at a time when they were considered an anachronism.

Read on for some more engaging ruminations, a few sound clips, and don't forget to add Hymie's to your RSS feed (whatever the hell that is). But before you do, one important fact the Hymie's blog won't tell you? Marty Robbins was only two inches taller than me, making him shorter than pretty much any man you'll ever encounter, and definitely shorter than any gunfighter you've ever known.

Marty Robbins, almost actual shorty size, at the Opryland Museum
Marty Robbins, almost actual shorty size, at the Opryland Museum
Photo by Jen Hughes

When he wasn't singing country music, Robbins raced cars competitively and participated in his final race shortly before his death in 1982. Just over a decade earlier, he had undergone open-heart surgery and was one of the first survivors of the risky triple-bypass operation. But in December 1982 he passed away at the age of 57, when his lungs and kidneys failed following a quadruple-bypass.

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