Grady Martin

Thomas Grady Martin, guitarist: born Chapel Hill, Tennessee 17 January 1929; three times married (10 children); died Lewisburg, Tennessee 3 December 2001.

Grady Martin was among the most influential guitarists in country music. He was a member of the elite group of Nashville session musicians whose work helped shape the genre in the decades following the Second World War, and his innovative playing can be heard on hundreds of recordings.

Artists as diverse as Hank Williams, Bing Crosby, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Joan Baez benefited from the highly developed aural imagination he brought to his session work. His atmospheric Mexican guitar playing on Marty Robbins' landmark western ballad "El Paso" (1959) provided a definitive moment in country music history, as did his influential distorted solo on another Robbins' classic, "Don't Worry" (1961). In 1964 he supplied the compelling and dramatic riff that opens Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman".

Willie Nelson, who has long acknowledged the debt his own nylon-string guitar work owed to Martin, tried to sum up his friend's approach:

Grady has a touch on the guitar that you really don't hear from any other guitar player. It's a very distinctive tone. Players like Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt have their own tones and sounds, and Grady Martin has his. It's a sweet tone; the notes are huge. I've tried to rip him off and I never could.

Born on a farm in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, Thomas Grady Martin was drawn to music as a child. Encouraged by his piano-playing mother, he learned successively to play the piano, guitar and fiddle. At 15 he joined the band of Nashville musician Big Jeff Bess and spent the next two years touring. In 1946 he found himself working with the Bailes Brothers and fulfilled a childhood dream by performing on the Grand Ole Opry.

In February 1946 he travelled to Chicago and made his recording début alongside the husband-and-wife team of Curly Fox and Texas Ruby. There he formed a partnership with a fellow guitarist named Robert "Jabbo" Arrington. Together they developed a blistering twin-guitar style that would gain widespread exposure when both joined the band of the country star Little Jimmy Dickens. Their work on Dickens' numbers like "Country Boy" (1949), "A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed" and "Hillbilly Fever" (both 1950) has a dazzling intensity that foreshadows much of the best rock 'n' roll guitar work.

Martin's fine performance on Red Foley's "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy" (1949) further raised his profile and, by now using a twin-necked guitar, he spent the next few years performing with Foley both in the studio and on The Ozark Jubilee radio show. In addition he continued to play on sessions behind other musicians, even, at one point, playing fiddle for Hank Williams on Kate Smith's networked television show.

In 1951 Martin formed a country-jazz band, Grady Martin and the Slew Foot Five, and, in addition to backing mainstream acts like Bing Crosby and Burl Ives, they began to record a series of fine discs in their own right. Later sessions under the name Grady Martin and his Winging Strings, featured Martin alongside fellow guitarist Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland, bassist Bob Moore, fiddle player Tommy Jackson and steel guitarist Bud Isaacs. A 10-inch LP they recorded at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium for Decca remains a much sought-after collector's item.

Over the next two decades Martin became one of the most respected session leaders in Nashville. He made memorable contributions to recordings by, among others, Floyd Cramer, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Ray Price, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard and by the 1970s was working as a producer for Monument Records.

It became clear, however, that he was becoming jaded by new trends in record production and in 1978 he returned to the life of a touring musician; working alongside first Jerry Reed and then, until his retirement some 16 years later, with Willie Nelson. He remained modest about his achievements, saying

I'm not a star. Makin' a good record and havin' it accepted – just bein' part of havin' a hit record – that's what mattered to me.

Paul Wadey

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions