Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Grady Martin tribute

Just months after the death of Chet Atkins, the world of country music suffered another massive loss when legendary session guitarist Grady Martin passed away this week aged 72. One of the most important musicians of the pioneering era of the 50's and 60's, Martin appears to have suffered a heart attack at his home.Martin was born on a farm near Chappel Hill in Marshall County, Tennessee, the youngest of four children. He spent many childhood hours listening to music on the families battery-operated Zenith radio, and soon developed a love for country music and the Grand Ole Opry which the family listened to every weekend. Young Grady began playing the fiddle and guitar and by his teens was playing in local bands and sitting in with visiting bands. At fifteen he was heard by Big Jeff Bess who persuaded Grady's parents to let him move to Nashville to play with his band Big Jeff and the Radio Playboys. Two years later he joined Paul Howard's Arkansas Cotton Pickers and then became a founder member of Little Jimmy Dicken's Country Boys. By now he had retired his fiddle and was becoming known as one of the town's top guitarists. He worked the Opry and played with the Bailes Brothers, Curley Fox and Texas Ruby.He took over the lead of Red Foley's band and as well as the Opry they played the Ozark Jubilee. It was with Foley that Martin played on his first big seller, Chattanooga Shoe-Shine Boy. During the session he formed a long time partnership with Decca's Paul Cohen and their influential Nashville producer, Owen Bradley. The next two decades were when Martin made his name and built up an unprecedented reputation. Although he recorded with his Slewfoot Five for Decca it was his session work where he excelled.He started working with Johnny Horton and the late 50's saw him at the peak of his craft on such Horton classics as Honky Tonk Man, I'm A One Woman Man, I'm Coming Home and The Woman I Need. It was Martin who suggested at one Horton session that Harold Bradley play a banjo on When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below). It was a master stroke which completely changed the song's make-up and set a trend for such historic folk songs - Horton repeated the idea for his million-seller, Battle Of New Orleans. He was respected as a versatile and inventive guitarist and the full range of playing he used when working with Brenda Lee summed it up, whether it be his rockabilly boogie playing on Bigelow 6-200, or his fills on the poppier material like Let's Jump The Brromstick or My Baby Likes Western Guys.The first Grammy ever awarded for a country song was Marty Robbins brilliant western ballad, El Paso, but only a fool would suggest the song would have been half as good without Grady Martin's fluent Tex-Mex picking. It was a high point in both men's illustrious careers. When they worked together a year later (1960), history was again made when Martin's malfunctioning amplifier caused a distorted sound, known from that day forward as fuzztone.He worked thousands of sessions and amongst the artists Martin backed were; Johnny Burnette, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Flatt & Scruggs, Lefty Frizzell, Don Gibson, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Baez, JJ Cale, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and Roy Orbison.In the 70's he worked extensively with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and produced the country-rockers Brush Arbor. After a brief spell with Jerry Reed he became a member of the Willie Nelson Family troupe, touring the world from 1980 to 1994 and working on such studio sessions as On The Road Again and Always On My Mind. He retired and spent his time back in Marshall County. He became the first recipient of the Nashville Music Association's Masters Award in 1983 and was awarded a Chetty last year during Chet Atkins' Musician Days festivities in Nashville. Married three times, Martin left behind ten children, seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild and an enormous body of guitar solos that helped change the face of popular music. As Bob Moore told the Tennessean newspaper, "I think he's the single greatest guitar player we've had here in Nashville".

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