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Nashville Sound: Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Hargus “Pig” Robbins might be the most famous piano player you’ve never heard of, though you’ve likely heard his work.

The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals will begin in a matter of days in Nashville, Tennessee, so today I want to tell you about a musician who is blind and made his career in Nashville, helping to put the “Music” in Music City.

Hargus Melvin Robbins was born in Spring City, Tennessee, in 1938. An accident left him blind at age four. Robbins attended the Tennessee School for the Blind and began classical piano lessons at age seven. He grew up listening to Grand Ole Opry stars such as Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, and he began teaching himself chords and rhythmic styles of Dixieland jazz, blues, boogie woogie, and country music by listening to artists such as Ray Charles on the radio and records. While in school he received his lifelong nickname, “Pig”: “I had a supervisor who called me that because I used to sneak in through a fire escape and play when I wasn’t supposed to, and I’d get dirty as a pig.”

After graduating high school, Robbins set his sights on the Nashville music scene. The first number-one hit he played on was “White Lightning” by George Jones in 1959. From there his session work accelerated. Working hundreds of recording sessions a year, Robbins became part of the “A Team,” a group of Nashville studio musicians that recorded albums with innumerable country music stars, including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner, Tammy Wynette, and Brenda Lee. After Bob Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde with the Nashville “A Team” in 1966, Robbins played on albums by folk artists such as Joan Baez and pop-rock artists like John Denver and Neil Young, enjoying a recording career that spanned from the 1950s into the 21st century.

Pig Robbins gained admiration for his mastery of various rhythm piano styles, ability to memorize songs quickly, and talent for inventing licks that perfectly suited the song he was playing. As Robbins has put it, “If you’re going to be a good player, you have to come up with something that will complement the song and the singer.” He received the Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year Award in both 1976 and 2000 and entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Michael McCall has described his impact on creating the “Nashville Sound,” writing, “Having played on countless country standards, Robbins helped the piano become a more prominent instrument as Nashville producers and record labels moved country music toward a sophisticated style that relied more on smoother, less down-home sounds.”

Why not try learning a song or two by one of the many artists with whom Pig Robbins recorded? Check out these titles in the Music collection:

All American Country, Volume 1: Complete Sheet Music Editions (BRM34960 volume 1, volume 2, volume 3, volume 4, and volume 5). For voice and piano, with guitar chord diagrams. Line by line and bar over bar formats. Includes Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and George Jones’s “White Lightning.”

Blues Eyes Crying in the Rain in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02505) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Nobody’s Dirty Business in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02527) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Harper Valley PTA in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02186) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

I Am a Pilgrim in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02261) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

The Ninety and Nine in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02215) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

You’ve Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley in the style of Chet Atkins (DBM02278) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Hardcandy Christmas in the style of Dolly Parton (DBM 03726) for piano, taught by Bill Brown. Available on digital cartridge.

Rocky Mountain High by John Denver (DBM02057) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

This Old Guitar by John Denver (DBM02152) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Poems, Prayers, and Promises by John Denver (DBM02147) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Darcy Farrow by John Denver by John Denver (DBM03339) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Cowgirl in the Sand by Neil Young (DBM02927) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Old Man by Neil Young (DBM02972) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

I Am a Child by Neil Young (DBM02981) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Down by the River by Neil Young (DBM02963) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young (DBM02973) for guitar, taught by Bill Brown.

Additional related resources from the Library of Congress:

Country Music Minibibliography from the National Library Service

Dolly Parton Interview: Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton discusses her Imagination Library children’s literacy program and her new partnership with the Library of Congress.

If you have questions about borrowing any of the books listed above, please contact the NLS Music Section by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2. You can also search BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download service, for books in the NLS Music collection that you can access instantly. And don’t forget to browse our Music Appreciation Catalog, Music Instruction Catalog, and Large-Print Scores and Books Catalog.

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