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Richard sits back on the couch with a puzzled smile. "It's news to me!" he says.
"My husband says I put him [Robbins] on a pedestal, which I don't, but . . ."
"She does," he says casually and flatly, interrupting. You get the feeling that he's used to this, yet he's not resentful. But what's there to be jealous of? "He's dead," Richard says with a shrug. "There's nothing to be jealous of. He was a very good singer, though, if you ever heard him sing. . . . I got no qualms with it; it just does get tiring. I need a break from it sometimes; she doesn't."
Far from just practicing tolerance, Richard is a fan, as well, and vice president of The Friends of Marty. "I had a premonition many years ago that I was going to meet Marty Robbins or have something to do with him," he reveals. "Then he died, and I thought, 'Scratch that.' But now I'm painting his portrait, I've done logos, I'm emceeing the shows; sometimes it's Marty 24 hours a day." Though most of Juanita's memorabilia is safely locked away in a fireproof storage vault, Martyesque things begin to emerge from shelves and drawers. She offers a stack of sheet music of Robbins' tunes, thumbs through the pages. A copy of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" emerges. "This is not his," Juanita says, sniffing. "I don't know what it's doing here."
A photo album is next. "See this?" she says, pointing to a color snapshot of nothing in particular. "See this empty lot?" says Juanita, stabbing at the photo. "He used to live in a house that was here, but I took a picture of an empty lot."
The scrapbook tour continues with shots of her standing in someone's living room swaddled in a racecar-driver's jumpsuit, a few sizes too large. "That's me in Marty's race suit [Robbins was an accomplished amateur NASCAR driver], and this is me in his outfit here," she says, turning the page. This photograph captures Juanita in jeans, the $2,000 belt and a denim shirt. The clothes seem unremarkable, but they did, of course, belong to Marty Robbins. The chance for Najera to don the duds of her hero came through her friendship with Robbins' sister, Mamie, who still lives in Arizona. "Oh, my God! I was so nervous, I just could not believe it," Juanita gushes, recalling her emotions when the pictures were taken. "She [Mamie] thought I was nuts. She said, 'I like Merle Haggard, but I wouldn't want to wear his clothes and buy his sister's house.'" It's doubtful that Marty Robbins will soon be forgotten. In a career that lasted more than 30 years, his songs--"Devil Woman," "A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)," "El Paso," "I Walk Alone," "Big Iron," to name a few--were rarely off the charts. He acted in 12 films and, in 1982, just months before his death, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The niche that Juanita wants to carve out, her contribution to the memory of the man that gave her so many memories, is simply one of hometown recognition. It all began for Robbins right here in Glendale, an untapped market of homage space.
There are, of course, other country-music heroes from the Valley. Many people know of Waylon Jennings' early years on Phoenix radio and in local clubs, and ex-Chandler resident Buck Owens (he was even baptized there) is still a powerful name here as the owner of country station KNIX-FM. Or, as Richard puts it: "Buck Owens? He ain't even dead yet." Why not give Robbins and Glendale the recognition they deserve?
All well and good, but is this just the pipe dream of an overzealous Marty freak? It's a long way from $3,000 to a museum that includes restaurants, a chapel and a theatre, no matter how many fund raisers you throw. Juanita Najera doesn't bat an eye at the suggestion; somehow, that's not a surprise. "It's a longtime dream," she says softly. "I'm just a devoted fan, and I want to do something. I won't go to my grave until all this is done.