I used to sing him church songs and he would tell me stories. A lot of the songs I've written were brought about because of stories he told me.
At least he told me he was. As a boy, Robbins was also inspired by Western movies. He was especially taken with Gene Autry, the original "Singing Cowboy. He remembered sitting in the front row of those pictures, "close enough so I could have gotten sand in the eyes from the horses and powder burns from the guns.
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I wanted to be the cowboy singer, simply because Autry was my favorite singer. No one else inspired me. Robbins's parents divorced when he was 12 years old. He and his eight siblings moved with their mother to Phoenix. After dropping out of high school, Robbins and one of his brothers spent some time herding goats and breaking wild horses in the Bradshaw Mountains outside of Phoenix.
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Robbins enlisted in the United States Navy in His wartime travels marked the first time went beyond the borders of Arizona. While in the Navy, Robbins participated in the successful campaign to recapture the island of Bougainville from Japanese forces. It was also during his time in the Navy that Robbins made his first sustained efforts at songwriting, teaching himself to play the guitar during his free time.
When he returned to home to Phoenix in , he had set his heart on a career in show business. Robbins got his start singing with local bands in bars and nightclubs around the Phoenix area, and in particular at a local club named Fred Kares. To support himself, he worked construction jobs. One day, while driving a brick truck, he heard a country singer featured on the local radio station KPHO.
Robbins was convinced that he could do better. He drove right down to the station and earned a place on the show. He landed a deal with Columbia Records in , after a talent scout watched Robbins working in the studio on Western Caravan. Around this same time, Robbins was invited to become a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry , the nation's most popular country radio show.
The show was broadcast live every week out of Nashville, Tennessee. Robbins's first No. The record featured two of his most popular and enduring songs: "El Paso" and "Big Iron. With a big, resonant voice and a flair for storytelling in the mode of his grandfather, Robbins continued to churn out chart-topping songs through the s. Meanwhile, Robbins was indulging a lifelong fascination with auto racing. He began in the early s by racing stock cars on small dirt tracks.
Robbins suffered a major heart attack near the end of the s, but his health problems didn't sideline him for long. In the worst of these crashes, an incident that proved both Robbins's fearlessness and his compassion, he swerved into a concrete wall at mph to avoid smashing into a fellow racer's car that had stalled in front of him. During this time, Robbins kept making music.
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