Hargus “Pig” Robbins – The Fingers of Country Music – Has Died

There are most certainly more popular and well-recognized entertainers to perform country music over the years. There are probably flashier side players who left their mark on audiences through country music’s century of existence. But nobody, nobody left more fingerprints on country music for well over 60 years, and remained relevant and sincerely sought after right up to his very death than Country Music Hall of Fame piano player and keyboardist Hargus “Pig” Robbins.

Robbins was there in 1958 when a young, crew cut George Jones stepped into the studio to record his first big single, “White Lightning.” He played those iconic piano parts on Patsy Cline’s most memorable compositions that became the very bedrock of how country piano was supposed to sound.

When Sturgill Simpson was assembling musicians to record his debut solo album High Top Mountain from 2013, Hargus “Pig” Robbins was the 1st on his wish list. And all the way up to last year, on Connie Smith’s latest album The Cry of the Heart, Hargus “Pig” Robbins can be heard, just like he can be heard on most all of Connie’s records, along with so many country legends who insisted it was Hargus on piano, and nobody else.

Born on January 18, 1938 in Spring City, Tennessee, Hargus Marvin Robbins was rendered blind at the age of four due to an accident involving his father’s knife. In those days, there were few occupations a blind boy could dream of, but one of them was playing piano, which he learned while attending the Nashville School for the Blind at age 7. His first session was in 1957, and soon Hargus became one of the most sought after studio performers in country music—a distinction he would enjoy for over 60 years.

It might be easier to name off the country artists Robbins did not play piano for, and for the ones he did, he often did for their entire career, and many of their signature songs. Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, and David Allan Coe are just a few of the names who worked with Robbins over the years. Nashville is notorious for heavy-handed producers assigning artists to play on pre-arranged compositions. But when it came to Hargus “Pig” Robbins attending a recording session, no complaints were registered. He was never not in demand, even in the mainstream. Miranda Lambert asked him to play on her 2016 album The Weight of These Wings.

And it wasn’t just the voluminous nature of his work, but what he played, and what he played on. Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “She Thinks I Still Care” by George Jones, and of course Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces” are just some of the compositions graced by Robbins’ tasteful, emotional, and soulful notes springing from a player who had no choice but to perceive the world through imagination, and bring that imagination to music.

And though the name of Hargus “Pig” Robbins will always be synonymous with country music—and from every era, including country’s Golden Years, to Countrypolitan, to Outlaw, and even more contemporary moments—he also left an outsized impact on music outside of country as well. He played on Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde sessions. Leon Russell wasn’t a shabby piano player himself, but turned to Hargus for accompaniment too. When Ween wanted to make an authentic country record in 1996 with their 12 Golden Country Greats, Hargus “Pig” Robbins was a must-have.

Hargus “Pig” Robbins was also a solo artist, releasing eight studio albums between 1963 and 1979. He won the CMA’s Musician of the Year in 1976 and in 2000. In retrospect, it’s a travesty he didn’t win it more—a distinction that always seems to favor guitar players. And in 2012, Hargus “Pig” Robbins was inducted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Nobody impacted country music from behind the ivories like Hargus. He’s a Mount Rushmore session musician in country music. And perhaps most important to note was the infectious smile he flashed when everything came together just right. He passed away on January 30th at the age of 84. No cause of death has been given.

Rest in Peace, Pig.

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This story has been updated.

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