Guitar/mandolin custom built by Paul Bigsby for Grady Martin, 1952.
It is Martin who plays the memorable riff on Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman." That alone makes him candidate for Rock'n'Roll sainthood. However, he also helped invent 'guitar distortion.' A tube was blown in the middle of a take at a Marty Robbins session and the resulting fuzz-toned solo was left in the song, the 1961 smash hit "Don't Worry."
Besides Chet Atkins, Martin was the only studio musician to play with both Hank Williams AND Elvis Presley.
with Anita Carter & Hank Williams
Copacabana Club, NYC 3-26-52
From the Country Music Foundation's "Encyclopedia of Country Music" (1998):
b. Chapel Hill, Tennessee, January 17, 1929
Grady Martin is one of the true legends of Nashville's original "A-Team" of studio musicians; his greatest strength was his versatility. Whether playing the fiddle or guitar - electric, acoustic, or six-string electric bass - his creativity helped to make hits of many records from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Thomas Grady Martin was just fifteen when he joined Big Jeff & His Radio Playboys as their fiddler in 1944. In 1946 he joined Paul Howard's western swing-oriented Arkansas Cotton Pickers as half of Howard's "twin guitar" ensemble, along with Robert "Jabbo" Arrington. After Howard left the Grand Ole Opry, Opry newcomer Little Jimmy Dickens hired several former Cotton Pickers, including Martin, as his original Country Boys road band.
Off the road, Martin began working recording sessions. He led Red Foley's band on the ABC-TV show Ozark Jubilee. Paying service to a strong business relationship with Decca A&R man Paul Cohen and his successor, Owen Bradley, Martin began to record instrumental singles and LPs for Decca, including a country-jazz instrumental LP as part of Decca's Country and Western Dance-O-Rama series. Martin recorded many more Decca recordings as lead for the Nashville pop band the Slew Foot Five.
Martin's role as studio guitarist yielded numerous memorable moments. It was he who played the throbbing leads on Johnny Horton's 1956 hit "Honky Tonk Man," the exquisite nylon string guitar on Marty Robbins's 1959 crossover smash "El Paso," and Lefty Frizzell's 1964 "Saginaw Michigan." One of the most famous sessions was an accidental malfunction in mid-take when Grady played the distorted "fuzz" guitar solo on Robbins's 1960 hit "Don't Worry." Though studio musicians in those days rarely received credit for their work, Martin's efforts didn't go unnoticed. Producers often designated him "session leader," which meant he led the musicians and directed the impromptu arrangements that became a landmark of Nashville sessions. In other words, he often became the de-facto producer in the process.
Martin continued to play sessions through the 1970s, working extensively with Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, and produced the country-rock band Brush Arbor. His funky leads helped to make a hit of Jeanne Pruett's 1973 "Satin Sheets." Martin eventually returned to performing, first with Jerry Reed and then with Willie Nelson's band, with whom he worked from 1980 to 1994. Martin became the first recipient of Nashville Music Association's Masters Award in 1983.
Recorded April 7, 1959, Bradley Studios,
16th Ave S., Nashville, Tennessee
Released September 1959
"Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" LP (Columbia)
Single released on October 26, 1959 - #1 (2 wks)
Marty Robbins - Vocals, Guitar
Grady Martin - Lead Guitar
Jack Pruett - Guitar
Bob Moore - Bass
Produced by Don Law and Frank Jones
Grady Martin, a guitarist for many of country music's top stars, died last week. He is remembered as a member of Nashville's "A-team" of session musicians, backing artists such as Willie Nelson, Joan Baez and Johnny Cash. Noah Adams talks with Bob Moore, a long time friend of Martin's and a fellow musician. (5:45)
Hear Bob's NPR Interview now (RealAudio).
O B I T U A R Y
Tennessean.Com Obit†††††Country.Com Obit
Son Josh Martin (right) with Bob Moore and Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Nov. 2000