A very special piano...
by Pam Windsor
The legendary Hargus “Pig” Robbins played piano on many of the greatest songs in country music. A member of Nashville’s “A” team, his first big hit was “White Lightning” by George Jones.
“He’s most known for his signature licks on Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich,” says his son, David Robbins. “Dad did "Walking After Midnight," "Sweet Dreams," and "She's Got You" with Patsy Cline. He played a lot with Connie Smith, including "Once A Day," her first hit.”
When Robbins died at the age of 84 in January of 2022, many mourned his loss while reflecting on his incredible musical legacy.
Blinded as a child after a knife accident, Robbins would attend the Tennessee for the Blind. There, he started taking piano lessons at the age of seven. It’s also where he got the nickname “Pig.” He loved sliding through the building’s old metal fire escapes, and when he once returned covered in black soot, a supervisor described him as dirty as a “little pig.” The name stuck.
In the late 1950s, Robbins headed to Nashville to pursue a music career. After his break with George Jones, he started getting more attention on Music Row.
“Then, when Floyd Cramer decided to take his act on the road, my dad became swamped with work,” says David. “If he was here, he'd tell you he was in the right place at the right time."
In the following years, Robbins played with some of the biggest names in country music. In 1999, he left the music scene for several years to battle lymphoma but later returned, picking up where he left off.
While he’s well-known for his music, Robbins was also a devoted family man with a wonderful sense of humor and a passion for NASCAR. David says although Robbins was blind, he was determined to do everything a dad with sight would do.
“When I was probably five or six years old, old enough to hold a baseball bat, he would go out there and try to pitch to me. And the ball would hit me or go behind me, and I don’t think I was ever able to hit one of them.” David laughs as he remembers. “But it was that special father/son time, you know? He’d also take me to the movies with his driver.
David’s cousin, Sonja Robbins Scales, also has fond memories of her Uncle Hargus.
“He was an amazing example of a human,” she recalls. “He cared about people and loved having fun. He and David and my Dad and brother would go to NASCAR races. My uncle couldn’t see, but he loved to go.”
When Robbins passed away, one of the greatest reminders of the man they loved so much was his piano.
“When he wasn’t working, which was rare, he would practice on that piano,” David says. “He felt he didn’t practice every day, he’d get rusty.”
The family could have sold the piano but wanted to keep it in the family. And it’s always had a special meaning for Sonja.
“When I would go to their house, instead of greeting them, I would go and look at that piano first,” she says. “I told my uncle if he ever wanted to get rid of it, I’d love the opportunity to purchase it.”
“It has a lot of sentimentality,” says David. “We were offered $10,000 to put it in the Musicians Hall of Fame, but we declined. It wasn’t about the money.”
Sonja remembers when she got the news the piano was hers.
“David called me one day and said, ‘Do you have room for that piano? And I just buckled.”
It’s now in her home in Sante Fe, recently tuned.
“I’m going to learn to play it,” she says. “It’s the most precious piece of furniture in my house. It has my uncle’s fingerprint marks on it and warms my heart every time I sit down to it.”
David and his wife, Pam, have also donated a couple of his Dad’s other smaller instruments to the Tennessee School for the Blind.
While he’ll miss the piano, David feels his Dad's presence everywhere.
“My Dad played on 400 No. 1 songs and probably some 15,000 recordings overall. Pam and I listen to Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM every day, and Dad’s on like every third song we hear. So, he’s still with us.”