If there was ever a “most interesting man in country music,” Marty Robbins would make a great candidate.
The career of Marty Robbins really was quite incredible. He recorded some 500 songs, released over 50 albums, and had over 100 singles, including 82 that charted in the Top 40, and 17 that reached the coveted #1 spot, including most that were written by Marty himself. That’s right, along with being a paramount performer, Marty Robbins was a highly-regarded songwriter as well, and is an inductee of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Marty Robbins is also one of a few small handful of performers that had at least two Top 10 hits in four separate decades. And he did all of this while dying fairly young at the age of 57. Robbins was both prolific, and accomplished.
Then appreciate that at the same time Marty Robbins was forging this Hall of Fame career in country music, he was also elbow deep in a side hustle of racing in NASCAR. Robbins competed in a total of 35 races throughout his career. And despite it being only a part-time hustle, Robbins recorded six Top 10 finishes. He’s also revered in the stock car world for once saving the life of Richard Childress in a heroic act.
Whenever people contemplate the topmost legends in country music, they rarely name Marty Robbins. But with the way Western music is finally starting to come back to prominence in country thanks to artists such as Colter Wall, the legacy of Marty Robbins is being re-evaluated and given its proper due.
After enlisting in the Navy at age 17 and being stationed in Hawaii, Marty Robbins fell in love with the sound of the steel guitar. After his discharge, he began pursuing a career as a country music performer, but his early career was marked with songs that were just as much pop as country. After he was established in his career though, Robbins set to writing and recording what would become his magnum opus, 1959’s Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.
To this day, this album remains one of the most influential works in country music history, and songs like “El Paso” and “Big Iron” are performed regularly. When regarding the album with the entire body of Marty work like “I’ll Go On Alone” and “Singing The Blues,” Marty Robbins really should be regarded with higher prestige in country music history. He was named the Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music in 1970.
But dying early in life cut the Marty Robbins legacy short. He never get to take a victory lap. Developing cardiovascular disease early in his life, his third heart attack in December of 1982 put him in Nashville’s St. Thomas Hospital where he died on December 8th, 1982.
Marty Robbins was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, just south of downtown. This is where multiple other country legends ended up, including Eddy Arnold, Johnny Paycheck, Porter Wagoner, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, and perhaps most notably, the somewhat polarizing memorial to George Jones, which is the cemetery’s main attraction (some believe it’s too gaudy).
Marty Robbins on the other hand rests in the back of the cemetery and with a marker that doesn’t even rise vertically from the ground. You could walk right past Mr. Robbins and not even know it’s him. In fact, finding the grave of Marty Robbins is a difficulty all unto itself. But for the dedicated country fan/grave hunter, this is the perfect challenge to paying your respects.
Marty Robbins is in the most northern portion of Woodlawn Memorial Park, specifically in the Gethsemane section. Though you can find numerous instructions on the internet about how to find it by taking rights or lefts at “the big tree” or “the small tree,” there are trees everywhere, and the area Marty’s in is massive. This was the hardest grave I’ve ever attempted to find.
After basically canvassing the entire Gethsemane section and adjacent portions of the cemetery, I finally came upon Marty and his wife Marizona, who is laid to rest right beside him.
The inscription on the Marty Robbins grave is just about perfect for his comparatively humble resting place. “He touched the soul of the world with his ‘Golden Voice’ to be used in a public way, yet the recognition he received on earth has been exceeded in a very private way.” This really encapsulates the experience of waking up to just how important Marty Robbins really was, and walking up to his grave in such a hard-to-find place. All of this is also what makes the experience so rewarding.
The way to best explain how to find the Marty Robbins grave is to find the sign for the adjacent Cemetery section, Garden of Time, and a trash receptacle at its base. Then walk in a parallel line up the hill with the line of graves. About 4/5ths of the way up the hill, you will find country legend Webb Pierce. Marty Robbins is just south of that. There is also a little group of old cabin-like buildings just south of the grave. That’s another easier landmark compared to the numerous trees around the graveyard section.
Yes, you also get a bonus by finding Marty Robbins since Webb Pierce is also right in the same vicinity. Or perhaps if you’re a bigger Webb Pierce fan, Marty Robbins is the bonus.
It’s always rewarding to seek out your favorite country legends to pay your respects. But for Marty Robbins, it felt especially fulfilling. Gone too soon, but with a legacy still celebrated today, Marty deserves his due, despite the humility he showed in life, and in death.