Monday, May 16, 2005

Jimmy Martin, RIP

Jimmy Martin, "The King of Bluegrass" died this weekend. He was one of the last remaining early bluegrass players. I guess his departure pretty much leaves Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs left. A great singer, musician, and songwriter. He played on such classics as "Grand Ole Opry Song" and "Sunny Side of the Mountain." But I mostly like him for being one of the few bluegrass musicians to not portray an image of an upright Christian gentlemen. Rather, he was a pretty mean bastard. Take this classic exchange from backstage of the Grand Ole Opry where he calls out that slick poser Ricky Skaggs.

Jimmy Martin to Unknown Musician: "You're going to play on the Grand Ole Opry"
UM: Yes, sir.
JM: What are you going to sign on it?
UM: I'm playing with Ricky Skaggs.
JM: Yeah?
UM: Yeah. Gonna play a little bluegrass tonight.
JM: A little bluegrass.
UM: Yeah.
JM: Well, he's about the sorriest fuckin' bluegrass you could ever hope to be on with, I'll tell you.


JM: Well, I'm just telling you, he's about the sorriest bluegrass, and tell him I said it.
UM: I'll do it--walks away

Later Skaggs comes around

JM hollering: Is that the biggest asshole in Nashville?
Ricky Skaggs comes over: Hey Jimmy. How you doin'?
JM: Okay. How you doin'?
RS: Okay
JM: Still think you can still sing tenor to me?
RS: I don't know. If you don't get it too high for me.
JM: Ricky, it's left up to you. It's not left up to me. If you want to make an ass out of yourself and don't want to sign tenor with me, don't do it....He lost his balls, huh? He lost his balls; he can't sign tenor with Jimmy no more.

OK, so Jimmy Martin was a jerk. You know what, Ricky Skaggs is an ass and I'm glad he was called on it. He does play about the sorriest fuckin' bluegrass you've ever heard. He's the Wynton Marsalis of bluegrass. He is an amazing mandolin player but does he really love the music? Does he really put his soul into it or is just doing it to make a buck since his country career crashed in the early 90s? He puts out albums that are technically proficient but so slicked up and produced that they lack any soul and I don't like listening to them.

So that's what I'll always remember Jimmy Martin for.

Source for conversation, Neil Strauss, "Fiddling and Picking His Way to Perfection," in Thomas Goldsmith, ed. The Bluegrass Reader. University of Illinois Press, 2004.