Hargus "Pig" Robbins, the piano player and keyboardist heard on seminal recordings by the likes of Patsy Cline, George Jones, Bob Dylan and numerous others, died on Sunday (Jan. 30) at age 84.
Hargus Melvin Robbins was born on Jan. 18, 1938, in Spring City, Tenn. He lost his sight at age 3 in an accident involving a pocket knife.
Robbins learned to play classical piano by ear at age 7 while studying at the Tennessee School for the Blind. He later developed his own style after discovering jazz and pop pianists.
"I got [the nickname] 'Pig' at school." Robbins told the Country Music Hall of Fame (as quoted in his member bio). "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."
Robbins' run as a sought-after Nashville session player began in the 1950s, with his boogie-woogie piano contribution to Jones' 1959 single "White Lightning" solidifying his A-team status.
Singles of note to feature Robbins on piano or keyboard include Cline's "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces," Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter," Lynn and Conway Twitty's "After the Fire is Gone," Crystal Gayle's "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors," Roger Miller's "King of the Road," Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and Tanya Tucker's "Delta Dawn."
"Like all successful session musicians, Pig Robbins was quick to adapt to any studio situation," said Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO, in a press release. "He worked quickly, with perfection less a goal than a norm. And while he could shift styles on a dime to suit the singer and the song, his playing was always distinctive. Pig's left hand on the piano joined with Bob Moore's bass to create an unstoppable rhythmic force, while the fingers on his right hand flew like birds across the keys. The greatest musicians in Nashville turned to Pig for guidance and inspiration."
Outside of rubbing shoulders with country stars, Robbins played on Dylan's 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, recorded and briefly toured with Neil Young and contributed to Ween's 1996 album 12 Golden Country Greats.
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More recently, Robbins appeared on recordings by Alan Jackson, Sturgill Simpson, Miranda Lambert and longtime collaborator and fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith.
Three albums for Elektra Records highlight Robbins' studio album output: 1977's Grammy-winning Country Instrumentalist of the Year, 1978's A Pig in a Poke and 1979's Unbreakable Hearts.
"Hargus 'Pig' Robbins was a defining sound for so much of the historic music out of Nashville," shared Sarah Trahern, CMA (Country Music Association) CEO, in a press release. "His talent spoke for itself through his decades-spanning career and work as a session pianist with countless artists across genres. Our hearts go out to his friends and family during this difficult time."
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