"I got one in
my room but it isn't quite finished yet," says Marty, and right there on
the patio of the Holiday Inn in the middle of Bryan, Texas, Marty Robbins gives
the world premiere of Twentieth Century Drifter, singing right into the
glistening, cherubic face of Cale Yarborough, who is having a good ole time not
five feet away.
song really ought to be about a tragedy," Robbins said the next day,
"but I don't want any deejay having to say, 'Now here's a song about
stock-car racing by the late, great Marty Robbins, who got his at 190 mph.'
"The song is
really about everybody in Grand National racing except the top bunch. There are
maybe four or five guys making money—big money—and the rest are living from
week to week, just bringing enough home to put something on the table and get
by until the next race. It'll be a good song, I think, and I'm gonna record
was so much noise last night I couldn't even tell if I was in tune. You ever
see so many drunks in your life?"
full-time singing star and part-time Grand National stock-car racer, was
something of a Twentieth Century drifter himself, long before he discovered
singing or stock-car racing. He was born in 1925 in the Arizona desert about 10
miles out from Glendale, a small town 15 miles northwest of Phoenix. The
Robbins family, eight children in all, was mostly poor. "We were desert
rats," says Marty. "During the Depression jobs were so hard to get the
jack-rabbits were screaming. My father did a lot of things, but he really
didn't make too much money. I remember once he had a hog ranch and was doing
pretty well; next thing I knew we were living 20 miles across the desert in a
tar-paper and tin shack." His parents were divorced when he was 12, and his
mother moved her brood to Glendale; the last time Marty saw his father was in
academic career was erratic, to say the best about it. He was something of a
troublemaker in high school and that, coupled with an active dislike of books,
resulted in many afternoons riding the rails to Prescott or Tucson and back.
"I must have been the world's youngest hobo," he says, "but the
best thing about an education is to be able to add and subtract and judge
people. There's a lot of money wasted on unnecessary education."
By the time
Robbins was 17 his high school principal agreed. "When's the last time you
attended English class?" he asked in high-pitched exasperation, having
caught Marty on the way to the nearest freight train.
" Martin, do
something useful with your life."