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A short interview with Jimmy Martin
conducted by Jim Moss 7-27-99:
Part 1 (more to follow)
Please understand that Jimmy Martin is a larger than life personality, a fact that
is apparent from the minute he picks up the phone. Jimmy Martin shouts all of
his words at you. It is somewhat like interviewing Foghorn Leghorn. I called
Jimmy in the early morning before he had a chance to get involved with
anything... around the house... like chores.. I think Jimmy Martin is a REAL
Bluegrass Personality of Colossal Proportions. He is from the old school and
has no problem speaking his point of view. Although I felt that at any point
Jimmy could have become angry with my questions, I was constantly aware
that I was talking to the person who had created much of the hardest sounding
Bluegrass ever written. This is a guy who makes no compromises.
I have found something interesting happening. Some people, upon their first
reading of this interview, reacted to things that they thought Jimmy had
said, but had not. This is quite interesting. JM
permission to reprint this is granted by owner, each part must presented
in its entirety with the "by line" and URL "www.candlewater.com"
Jim Moss: I heard a song on a 50s radio show that
I have here with the
Uncle Pen fiddle run on it - did you know what song that was?
Jimmy Martin: I believe that Jim Eanes had a song out
bout old fiddlers..
had that run on it.
Jim Moss: Did that come after "Uncle Pen" or before?
Jimmy Martin: Yeah.. after.
Jim Moss: So how did that break come about.. did you
have to do with
writing that break?
Jimmy Martin: No! Me and Bill would ride along
and write lyrics to the song.
Then when we rehearsed it, I asked him to let me put that run in there.
Jim Moss: The guitar run.. but what about the fiddle break?
Jimmy Martin: No, Hell, that was Red Taylor! Red
Taylor was the one who
made the style of Uncle Pen's fiddling. That was the Uncle Pen style, Red gave
that to Bill Monroe. That is Red Taylor... ain't nobody fiddles like that.
Jim Moss: That guitar run is your famous..
Jimmy Martin: That was my idea. I asked Bill to
let me take a break there
and slide that run in there. Now that is called the Jimmy Martin run.
Jim Moss: That's right! That's ah..
Jimmy Martin: You can put it in your web site just like that.
Jim Moss: I will too. You are sorta like the Jerry Lee Lewis of Bluegrass.
Jimmy Martin: I tell you what the radio stations call
me, and you can say it in
there if you want to. They call me... The disk jockeys.. They call me
"The late great Hank Williams and George Jones of Bluegrass". That is just exactly
what they call me.
Jim Moss: Well, there you go...
Jimmy Martin: Now you can add Jerry Lee Lewis in there
if you want to. I like
that too cause I was about to record me a song that he recorded, "What Made
Milwaukee famous is made a loser out of me".
Jim Moss: Right.. yep..
Jimmy Martin: (sings) What maaaadeee Milwaukee
faaamouss has made a
loooserrrr out of meeee.
Jim Moss: Great! Now when you were singing
with Monroe, did you sing
quiet to get those real high notes on "I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling" ?
Jimmy Martin: That was "A Voice From On High"
that I did with Bill. Sweet
Voice Calling was with Lester. Now we are talking about that high soft
voice, from "On High". I hear a voice calling it must be our Lord it's coming
from heaven on high. I helped him write that too.
Jim Moss: Did you really? How come they (The
Bluegrass Boys) never
performed it much?
Jimmy Martin: Well yeah, I didn't play with him too
long when it come out. He
never had too many people who could sing that with him either.
Jim Moss: That is one of the greatest songs in Bluegrass..
Jimmy Martin: He only had two lead singers.
Number one... Lester Flatt,
number two Jimmy Martin. You can reverse that around number one
Jimmy Martin, number two Lester Flatt. I think Edd Mayfield did pretty good.
Jim Moss: He was great! That 1954 band was something.
Jimmy Martin: He did pretty good, but he didn't do as
good as Lester Flatt
and Jimmy Martin.
Jim Moss: Yeah and it seems like Edd Mayfield was the
first to use a lot of
bass runs in his rhythm guitar playing.
Jimmy Martin: Edd Mayfield come with him after I was with him (Bill Monroe).
Jim Moss: Well, you certainly had some great bass runs...
Jimmy Martin: Yeah, but on some of his recordings I
didn't have a good guitar
though. Had about ah $85 dollar Gibson.
Jim Moss: A Gibson! Is that right? On the movie
video "High Lonesome", there is
a picture of a kid on the cover, singing. Is that you?
Jimmy Martin: That's me!
Jim Moss: Boy you look like you were trouble, I'll tell you.
Jimmy Martin: I was 12 years old with a Gene Autry
guitar. You know what?
They (High Lonesome producers) made a sad mistake by not putting my name
right on me standin there!
Jim Moss: Well, I guess they implied it in the film the
way the picture came up
and your part was one of the best in the whole film. The way you played
"20 20 Vision" both ways.
Jimmy Martin: That's what they said. That is why they put me on there.
Jim Moss: It was cool!
Jimmy Martin: You like what I done about him huh?
Jim Moss: Yeah, I thought it was excellent!
Jimmy Martin: thankya
Jim Moss: It was a great example of the difference
between the two styles of
Jimmy Martin: The Osborne Bros. said we couldn't do
that song. Said "it's not
Bluegrass". Said "it's not our style.." I said "its gonna be our style when we get
through with it". It made a hit with the Osbornes. Got number 5, the best selling
record for RCA Victor's Country Music.
Jim Moss: I thought you did it with JD Crowe and ..
Jimmy Martin: I did, but I did it with the Osbornes first!
Jim Moss: So, how did that go.. How did..
Jimmy Martin: I just got through a telling you son!
Jim Moss: No, no.. How did you meet those guys..? The Osborne Bros.
Jimmy Martin: Well, Hell Fire, Bob come to my show when
I was with Bill.
Me and Sonny played together a year or so before Sonny ever learned to play
the banjo! That's how they made it, they met me when I was at the Opry with
Bill Monroe. That is where Sonny come up and got my autograph.
Jim Moss: How did you meet Frank Wakefield?
Jimmy Martin: Oh he come to.. when we played
Ohio. In Dayton Ohio he was
around there then. When I was in Detroit he played in a club up there.
Jim Moss: Yeah, he told a story about how you came by
there with the Osborne
Brothers and cleared out the entire place where he was playing. That they just
folded up and went over to see you across the street.
Jimmy Martin: hah hah hah hah
Jim Moss: So did you sing quietly or really loud when
you would sing those
Jimmy Martin: Loud! We only had one microphone. Everybody had to be heard.
See, I sung tenor on "Meet You In Church Sunday
Morning", and I sung tenor on
"Angels Rock Me To Sleep"... the high part, and Bill sung lead. He never did do
that before did he?
Jim Moss: ...yeah..
Jimmy Martin: I SAID! BILL NEVER DID LET NOBODY
Jim Moss: No he never did...
Jimmy Martin: I'll tell you one thing. When I
come with him! You listen, you
put this on your web site... When I come with Bill Monroe, he was singing
"Blue Moon of Kentucky" in A. OK?
Jim Moss: Yup!
Jimmy Martin: OK? Then every song that he
and Lester had recorded in A like
"Will You Be Loving Another Man", "Cabin Home On The Hill"? I throwed
it up in B natural. So his solos was in A. Bill's was. FOLLOW ME?!
Jim Moss: Yeah!
Jimmy Martin: Like Lester... Bill's singing like
Lester. Ok, when I went with
him all the songs that him and Lester recorded in A, we moved them up in B
and high C. So Bill says, "well what's the use of me singing tenor to you in B
and singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky" in A?" "I am just gonna move it up in B".
So there is where the high lonesome sound come from.
Ya understand? Put that on your web
site! Now any song that him
(Bill Monroe) and Lester sung in G, me and him move it up in A. Anything they
done in A we do it in B. And so Bill was singing "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" in
A, he recorded it in A. FOLLOW ME?
Jim Moss: Yep..
Jimmy Martin: When I went with him, he said to
me.. why your singing your
leads in B, a lot higher. He said then "well I'll just move my "Blue Moon Of
Kentucky" up in B. So there's were he sung it till he died!
Jim Moss: Now in your band... The one with JD and Paul
Williams.. Now that
was one of the hottest bands in Bluegrass.
Jimmy Martin: Oh yeah.. We were popular.
Jim Moss: There was something about the spirit in that
music.. the tension...
You guys were getting this tension in the music.
Jimmy Martin: I was the one who was putting that in
there. Jimmy Martin was
puttin the tension in there.
Jim Moss: It's like Pre-Rock and Roll, Rock and Roll.
Jimmy Martin: Yeah! Put that like that!
YEAH.. That is Jimmy Martin, what
your saying... and I think so too! (Jimmy Martin) Added a lot to Bluegrass
music. Added showmanship.. and good entertainment. The others..
Bill Monroe would not smile, Bill Monroe would not get up on his tip toes till
I was with him, playing the mandolin, then he would get up there jumping up
and down. So you put it in there that Jimmy Martin did put life in Bill Monroe
when he was with him.
Jim Moss: Ok..
Jimmy Martin: Put it like that!
Jim Moss: I will..
Jimmy Martin: Say Jimmy Martin put life in Bill Monroe
when he was singing
with him and playing the guitar with his mandolin. And that is what he said!
He would be jumping up and down and everything.
Jim Moss: Now when you met JD Crowe..
Jimmy Martin: Let me tell you this first! You know when
he (Bill Monroe) first
recorded "Mule Skinner Blues"? Now when I recorded it with him, I got him a
laughing at the microphone. Olulayyyyyeeeeee heeeee, he he he heeeee.
HEAR ME?! Now I was the one.. Now listen...
They don't know it... I've not been given no credit on nothing!
Jim Moss: Well, I will.. I think you are terrific.
Jimmy Martin: Yeah, King of Bluegrass! I will
play you that Tom T. Hall song..
that Tom T. Hall wrote about me.. and Gary Brewer recorded it.
Ya want to hear it?
Jim Moss: Ok.
Jimmy Martin: Tom T. Hall wrote this, this
You heard "Bill Monroe for breakfast.." ain't ya?
Jim Moss: Bill Monroe for breakfast?
Jimmy Martin: Have you hear that by Tom T. Hall?
Jim Moss: No.
Jimmy Martin: Well now he got a big award for that
thing up there in
Louisville last year.
Jim Moss: All I saw from Louisville was that video you made with
Jimmy Martin: With Carlton Haney? Well I
told him out real quick, Bill
Monroe learned off of everyone else.. didn't he! You think I told him the truth?
Jim Moss: Ah well, you just told me the same thing here too.
Jimmy Martin: Who?
Jim Moss: You!
Jimmy Martin: ha ha Listen to this, he
already has it out called the salute to
the king of Bluegrass. (He plays the song over the phone)
What do you think?
Jim Moss: Well that's... I like that vacuum guitar ending on the...
Jimmy Martin: I'll tell you what! He has
got a better group than I have with
me right now on that record it sounds more like my group use to sound.
Don't you think?
Jim Moss: Well, the banjo doesn't sound like Crowe. Sounds more like Scruggs..
Jimmy Martin: Well Crowe is as close to Scruggs as you will get!
Jim Moss: Well, Crowe is Crowe. but I don't listen to
any modern bands though..
If it was recorded later than 1957 or 1963 I probably haven't heard of it.
Jimmy Martin: It is hard to find a musician that
knows the timing and
knows my songs.
Jim Moss: When you would work with your famous
band... I think your famous
band was the one with Crowe.
Jimmy Martin: Yeah... Well I worked on Crowe
harder. We rehearsed!
Fact about it, we eat out of the same fridgerator and lived together for four,
five year. Rehearsed, rehearsed.. Today, you don't have time to rehearse, the
boys don't like to pick. The boys don't care nothing about it. All they care about
is getting around the festivals, put this in there! and having a lot of fun.. and
running here and there and they ain't got their mind on the show.. and playing
good music at all! Am I hitting the nail on the head?
Jim Moss: Well.. that is not the way I am.. but..
Jimmy Martin: Well, you will have to show me better
cause that is the way
I see it.
Jim Moss: You know with Frank (Wakefield) we will get
up in the morning
and we we'll warm up.. Then we will go have something to eat. Then we will
go back stage and warm up some more and then we will go on. Then we sell
some records... go warm up again and go on stage again. Frank himself never
stops playing. We sing harmonies in the car to keep awake. With Frank it is
24 hours of music. Thank God he gets tired every couple of days.. or we
wouldn't sleep at all!
Jimmy Martin: It ain't like that with my group!
There's no warm ups nuthing...
just see them about 5 mins before you go on stage 5 or 10 and that's it. It is the
same trouble the ones I give a job they won't even get in there and get it. They
just play every dam way, I am a telling you.
Jim Moss: Well, I think you know a
Jimmy Martin: It ain't what we think! I am just telling you the plain dam truth!
Jim Moss: Well, I...
Jimmy Martin: Now what does that tell you?
Jim Moss: They must not be listening.
Jimmy Martin: That's right!
Jim Moss: Seems that they would be happy they could...
Jimmy Martin: They're not though!
Jim Moss: have.. the influence
Jimmy Martin: We might as well stop talking about this,
cause it will upset me..
I don't even want to talk about it.
Jim Moss: all right, so I played a festival with you..
my band that is, in the
1980s, it was Dick Tyner's festival down in Southern California. Even at that
time your guitar looked like the body of the guitar, where the strings attach below
the saddle, that it was about to come right off the guitar.
Jimmy Martin: Yeah, I had so many people working on
it.. finally got a guy who
knows what he is doing.. I think.
Jim Moss: Did you have a strut job done on that
or anything? I mean to make
it that weak.. or are you using heavy gauge strings or ...
Jimmy Martin: No.. it's just old.
Jim Moss: I see. What year is that?
Jimmy Martin: ahh forty five. I got a forty five and a forty three.
Jim Moss: Yeah, we looked at that thing.. and the
way you play.. You definitely
play hard.. That the guitar looked like it was going to explode at any point.
Jimmy Martin: yeah..
Jim Moss: So, where did you get that guitar from? What's the story on that?
Jimmy Martin: ahh, I got it from a guy who use to come
to a club in Detroit
when I worked up there on Saturday night WJR Barn Dance. Then we would
play a club. He'd come out there and sing some.. and his wife was too young
to get in the club.. She'd ah holler and call him ever kind of name.. in the world...
for coming out there and singing with us. Ya know.. and one night he was
drinking and when he got home he cap'ed it over her head.
Jim Moss: Really?
Jimmy Martin: and I gave him $75 for it.
Jim Moss: He put it over her head?
Jimmy Martin: Yeah.. had strings wrapped around her
ear. Busted the front
all to pieces.. I had it fixed back up.
Jim Moss: Well, did he continue to play after that?
Jimmy Martin: Yeah. He just ended up getting him another woman.
Jim Moss: Right, I guess that would be the thing to
What was it like playing back in the 1950's?
Did you guys play radio shows a lot?
Jimmy Martin: Yep, Radio shows.. no money.. but worked
hard and rehearsed
and sounds good.
Jim Moss: Did you play theaters and..
Jimmy Martin: Yeah.. percentage dates.
Jim Moss: No festivals before the 60's
Jimmy Martin: No.
Jim Moss: So ahh, it must have been kinda tough ah?
Jimmy Martin: The first festival was when Calton Haney
had that one up in
Roanoke. That was when you started calling it "Bluegrass Music".
Jim Moss: That was when it happened?
Jimmy Martin: Yeah, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
got on the Beverly
Hillbilly's. It went from "Hillbilly Music" then to "Bluegrass". They had to name
it something, Hillbilly was big, "Texas Swing" was big.. ya see what I am saying?
Had to separate the style of banjo and fiddle away from it.
Jim Moss: You know, when you look at music
today.. from the seventies
forward.. the field of what they call Bluegrass is so broad with so many
different influences.. but when you go back to the...
Jimmy Martin: See when Lester and Earl made that
Beverly Hillbilly's song
a lot the radio stations called it that "Hillside Pickin". Then it went from Hillside
Pickin into Bluegrass.
Jim Moss: but when you look at video tapes of the
Opry back in 1957.. Monroe
is there and a lot of other country acts are there.. and most of them are playing
acoustic instruments.. Much of it sounds pretty much like Bluegrass.
To be continued
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