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Marty Robbins: Fast Cars, Country Music

By Barbara J. Pruett

Scarecrow Press, 601 pages, $29.77 (reprint edition)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens, May 2008

Find it on Amazon
For several years Marty Robbins was arguably the most popular entertainer on the Grand Ole Opry. He was given the last spot on the second show by accident - he was late getting there because he was racing - but he had to be the closer. The audience called him back for so many encores that the Opry would run long past its scheduled end time, 30 minutes, a few times pushing 60 minutes. This, of course, made the nearby Ernest Tubb Record Shop show late for it was scheduled immediately after the end of the Opry, so running late wasn't taken lightly.

Some of his fans, known as Marty's Army, idolized him and grew close to him. While there is always some distance between a star and his or her fans, Robbins valued his fans and allowed them closer than most popular performers. Beyond the Army, though, was a huge fan base that loved his music, but only caught glimpses of the man behind the persona.

Barbara Pruett's new book gives those fans, and the people who recognize his music but became fans after his death, a look behind the public face of Robbins. He was a man of many talents: songwriter, singer, businessman, family man, race car driver. Now we get a better look at his life.

Pruett divides the book into two parts, a bibliography - the man - and his music. The prose in the bibliographies (broken into spans of years) provides interesting tidbits of information (like how Little Jimmy Dickens and Fred Rose were instrumental in helping Robbins get a start on a national level), but the majority of the information is lists of events. Eleven years' (the first section) listing of every published photo, article, song and other trivia make interesting reference material even if they are mind-numbing to read in one sitting.

Interjected in the bibliographies are interviews with people who knew him well, and these bring life to the story. Don Winters and Bobby Sykes spent decades with Robbins, and their stories tell more than anything else what he was like, tidbits like not being a drinker and his belief that the album that included "El Paso" would be a bust. (It has sold more than 3 million copies so far.)

In the section on media, Pruett digs deep into minutiae: guest lists on each episode of "Country Caravan" (also known as "Classic Country") on which Robbins appeared and guest lists - including songs performed! - on "Marty Robbins' Spotlight." The bibliography section finishes with statistics on Robbins' racing career.

The second section has a lengthy part covering his discography and copyrights, illustrating what a great producer of music he was. The book closes with an interview of Robbins done by Bob Allen that let's us see the man in his own words. Here you'll read the stories behind some of his biggest hits like "El Paso" and "Don't Worry" and thoughts on performing and life.

The book can be an exhausting read, but it's well worth the effort. Marty Robbins was too great a performer to ever become an afterthought in the modern world of country music, remembered just when one of his hits gets rare airplay. Pruett's book helps us remember - and he deserved that.