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

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on Scotland's oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Sport
footballThe latest scores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Man City and Chelsea vs Schalke
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week