A purple and chartreuse quarter panel from a 1971 Dodge Charger hangs on the wall of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville as a reminder of Marty Robbins’ extracurricular activities while he was busy scoring No. 1 hits in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The chunk of metal is just one of the items being displayed in Marty Robbins: Among My Souvenirs, an exhibit that opens to the public Friday (Aug. 3).
Robbins, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Oct. 11, 1982, some seven weeks before he died of a heart attack and just a few days after competing in the Atlanta Journal 500 race in Georgia. He was 57.
With a string of No. 1 hits in the ’50s and ’60s including “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation),” “El Paso” and “I Walk Alone,” he continued to score major hits in the ’70s. The Hall of Fame exhibit coincides with the 25th anniversary of his death, and curator Mick Buck says the recognition is long overdue.
“It was a reminder to us that he’s perhaps not as appreciated as he should be,” Buck says. “His contributions to country music were immense, in terms of his popularity, his stylistic range and that wonderful voice. We wanted to point out what an incredible artist he was.”
The exhibit chronicles Robbins’ life through memorabilia, including photographs, album covers and the small-bodied Martin guitars that were one of his trademarks. Also on display is an array of stage clothing, including sequined suits designed by Nudie the Rodeo Tailor.
Robbins’ son Ronny, who once recorded as Marty Robbins Jr., recently got an advance look at the exhibit.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “I’m seeing this in completion for the first time this morning. We’ve been working on this since February. I kind of had a general vision of what I thought it would be like, but they’ve just captured so much. Reading the storyboards, it’s almost new to me. It’s neat to see it and kind of refresh my mind. Sometimes when you’re too close to something, you kind of forget about certain things.”
Marty Robbins’ was known as one of country’s most energetic and charismatic entertainers, but his son also recalls hearing him sing in more casual settings.
“He was effortless,” he said. “Growing up in the house we lived in, he had a little piano room in one end of the house. My bedroom was clear at the other end. If the air conditioner wasn’t running, I could hear him singing through the air conditioner vents — just like it was on an intercom. It was nothing for him to be up three or four hours in the middle of the night just singing. He might be writing, or he might just be singing because he wanted to sing. Because he couldn’t sleep that much. He was an insomniac, and that was about the only way he could get relaxed.”
Ronny Robbins says his father would have been genuinely honored by the exhibit.
“I’m just so thankful that this has come to fruition,” he said. “I feel like it should have been done, but I’m a little too close to it to make any waves. I guess I’m like Daddy in that sense. If he’d had to beg somebody or cajole somebody into doing this, it wouldn’t have meant anything to him. This is something that the Hall felt should be done. I was really thrilled and honored that they would consider doing this.”
Marty Robbins: Among My Souvenirs will remain open until June 2008.