The Nashville Network’s hourlong tribute to Marty Robbins, compiled from family movies, snapshots, concert footage and anecdotes from family, friends and admirers, is an affectionate retracing of the career of this “pretty soulful cat ,” as the host, singer/lyricist Hoyt Axton, describes him early on.
When country singer Marty Robbins died in 1982 at age 57 of a massive heart attack, the tradition of the romantic singing cowboy — nurtured in its heyday by such luminaries as Roy Acuff, Merle Travis and Gene Autry — reached the end of the trail.
Best known for the 1959 “El Paso,” a winsome deathbed account by an amorous cowboy done in by love, which sold 5 million copies, Robbins looked to Autry as his musical idol. (In a brief cameo, the 87-year-old Autry returns the compliment.)
What eventuates is an easygoing tribute, dolled up by the filmmakers with a few too many camera montages, full of loving remembrances from family and co-workers (among them country greats Barbara Mandrell and Porter Wagoner).
In timeless documentary fashion, the uncredited script has Robbins emerging as a “real cutup,” a”troubled soul,” a”loving family man who was Marty Robbins on the stage but just plain Martin D. Robinson at home” and “a frustrated artist who longed to cross over from country to pop.” When that all fades, and the reedy charm of Robbins’ singing voice takes over, the program finds its strength.