Marty Robbins’ life changed dramatically when he left his hometown of Glendale for the bright country and western lights of Nashville in 1953, although he’d probably have been happy enough if he’d stayed put anyway.
He was already playing country bars around the Valley and had met the love of his life, right in his hometown.
“Daddy never wanted to move to Nashville,” his son, Ronny Robbins, said on Oct. 16, reminiscing about the legend who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame 38 years ago this month. “He said at the time he had a little 15-minute TV spot on KTYL in Mesa. He was doing that.”
Marty had met Marizona Baldwin at Upton’s Ice Cream Parlor, at the northeast corner of Glendale and 58th avenues in Historic Downtown Glendale, when he was fresh out of the Navy at age 20. Marty told his buddy right then and there, “I’m gonna marry that girl,” and Marizona, too, recounted in a 1980s interview, “I guess it was love at first sight.”
All the while, Marty was playing his songs at local bars like Fred Cares, at 35th Avenue and McDowell Road, whose slogan was “When Nobody Else Cares, Fred Cares.”
“He honestly thought it couldn’t get any better than that,” Ronny recalled.
His adventure was only beginning, though.
A move to Nashville preceded a record deal, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1953, 94 chart records -- including 16 No. 1 hits on the country charts -- the Academy of Country Music naming him Man of the Decade for the 1960s, and ultimately that induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame shortly before his death at age 57 in 1982.
In a life of major achievements, the Hall of Fame nod was indeed something else, Ronny says.
“It really did mean a lot to him,” Ronny, 71, shared from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. “Especially considering that it was coming from the CMA. The Country Music Association was not particularly kind to daddy. I don’t think he was even nominated, maybe one time in a 12- or 15-year span. He probably wouldn’t have even gone to the ceremony that night if it wasn’t for Eddy Arnold.”
Indeed, Eddy Arnold -- a legend himself with 147 songs on Billboard’s country music charts, second only to George Jones -- coaxed Marty into turning up at the ceremony in October 1982 while keeping his induction a secret until announcing the news live during the show.
“I never had any idea that this would happen because I really feel there are other people who deserve it before I should get it,” a visibly shocked Marty said in his acceptance speech. “But I think, you know, possibly that it might not happen again so I’m gonna take it tonight.”
Ronny was watching on TV at a CBS party.
“It was really prophetic because he passed away two months later,” he said.
Marty also appeared in numerous films and television specials as well.
But it was his other passion -- stock car racing -- that held a special bond between father and son.
“From the time I can remember, I remember going to midget races in Phoenix -- I guess it was the fairgrounds -- getting dirt in my eyes when the cars go by. We would sit right going into the first turn. That’s what I always remember. That was a favorite spot,” Ronny said of Marty, who would start in 35 Winston Cup races over 10 years, including at the likes of Daytona and Talladega, while piling up six Top 10 finishes. “We always saw eye to eye on racing.”
For a guy born, as Ronny says of his dad, in Glendale “in the desert somewhere; I don’t know if they had a house or a tent,” Marty’s legacy continues to shine.
His songbook spans some 500 tunes, and has been covered over the decades by, among others, Johnny Cash, the Grateful Dead and Elvis Presley.
Marty’s signature song, “El Paso,” was featured prominently in the 2013 series finale of “Breaking Bad.” The episode, “Felina,” was inspired by the Feleena character from Robbins’ song, and the show had the highest ratings of any episode of the iconic series.
Marty and Marizona were married 34 years until his death.
And Ronny still gets asked about his daddy regularly.
“It’s quite an honor,” he said.