Jimmy Martin

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Jimmy Martin
Jimmy martin.jpg
Background information
Born(1927-08-10)August 10, 1927
Sneedville, Tennessee
DiedMay 14, 2005(2005-05-14) (aged 77)
Nashville, Tennessee
Genres Bluegrass
InstrumentsGuitar, mandolin
Years active1949–2005
Labels Decca, Coral, MCA, Gusto
Associated acts Bill Monroe

James Henry Martin (August 10, 1927 – May 14, 2005) was an American bluegrass musician, known as the "King of Bluegrass" [1] .

Bluegrass music is a genre of American roots music that developed in the 1940s in the United States Appalachian region. The genre derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Bluegrass has roots in traditional English, Irish, and Scottish ballads and dance tunes, and by traditional African-American blues and jazz. The Blue Grass Boys played a Mountain Music style that Bill learned in Asheville, North Carolina from bands like Wade Mainer's and other popular acts on radio station WWNC. It was further developed by musicians who played with him, including 5-string banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt. Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe characterized the genre as: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound."


Early years

Martin was born in Sneedville, Tennessee and was raised in the hard farming life of rural East Tennessee. He grew up near Sneedville, singing in church and with friends from surrounding farms. His mother and stepfather who used to sing gospel were his first influences. When he was in his teens he bought a guitar. Martin told The Big Book of Bluegrass: "I learned the basic chords from an old hillbilly named Reuben Gibson, who lived in the hills around Sneedville, and I taught myself how to play. I heard Lester Flatt and Charlie Monroe both play runs, but I didn't try to top them. I mostly just developed them how I felt, when it came natural for a song." [2] In his teens, he played guitar in a local string band and later appeared on radio with Tex Climer and the Blue Band Coffee Boys.

Sneedville, Tennessee Town in Tennessee, United States

Sneedville is a town in Hancock County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 1,387 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Hancock County, located in the mountainous northeastern section of the state.

East Tennessee comprises approximately the eastern third of the U.S. state of Tennessee, one of the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee defined in state law. East Tennessee consists of 33 counties, 30 located within the Eastern Time Zone and three counties in the Central Time Zone, namely Bledsoe, Cumberland, and Marion. East Tennessee is entirely located within the Appalachian Mountains, although the landforms range from densely forested 6,000-foot (1,800 m) mountains to broad river valleys. The region contains the major cities of Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Johnson City, Tennessee's third, fourth, and ninth largest cities, respectively.

Lester Raymond Flatt was an American bluegrass guitarist and mandolinist, best known for his collaboration with banjo picker Earl Scruggs in The Foggy Mountain Boys.

Music career

In the winter of 1949, Mac Wiseman had just left Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. Martin, who wanted to apply for the vacant post as guitarist, rode the bus into Nashville. He sneaked in backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. While picking his guitar, he was overheard by Blue Grass Boys" banjo player Rudy Lyle who brought him forward and presented him to Monroe. Martin sang two songs with Monroe and was hired instantly.

Malcolm Bell Wiseman was an American bluegrass singer.

Bill Monroe American bluegrass musician

William Smith Monroe was an American mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, who helped to create the style of music known as bluegrass. Because of this, he is commonly referred to as the "Father of Bluegrass".

Nashville, Tennessee State capital and consolidated city-county in Tennessee, United States

Nashville is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. The city's population ranks 24th in the U.S. According to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the total consolidated city-county population stood at 691,243. The "balance" population, which excludes semi-independent municipalities within Davidson County, was 667,560 in 2017.

Beginning in 1949 Martin was lead vocalist for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys". Martin's high voice mixed with Monroe's tenor came to be known as the "high lonesome" sound. His influence radically changed Monroe's music from the fast-paced but smooth style of the "original" 1945 band with Flatt and Scruggs. Martin challenged Monroe to raise the pitch on many of his classics and to write new, "lonesome" songs. This band with Rudy Lyle (banjo) and Charlie Cline (fiddle) was one of the many high points of Monroe's career. Martin's lead was defining in "lonesome" songs such as "Sitting Alone in the Moonlight", "Memories of Mother and Dad" and "I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome". [3]

Rudy R. Lyle was an American bluegrass banjo player, mostly known for being a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the period 1949–1954.

Charles "Charlie" Cline, was an American bluegrass fiddler and multi-instrumentalist, known for being the sideman of several legendary bluegrass groups from the 1950s and well into the 1980s.

Martin had a famously high-strung and exuberant personality, and inevitably clashed with Monroe's equally stubborn temperament. He left Monroe and worked briefly with the Osborne Brothers until he formed his own band, "The Sunny Mountain Boys" in 1955. The classic lineup of this band, with J. D. Crowe and "Big" Paul Williams (stage name for Paul Humphrey) defined his "Good 'n Country" style, a commercially oriented, crowd-pleasing bluegrass with simple harmonies, catchy melodies, and a strong rhythm propelled by Martin's effective guitar playing. He credited himself with inventing the "G" run- a guitar lick used widely in the [] genre. However, aural evidence from the period before Martin began performing professionally clearly shows Lester Flatt using this run when backing Bill Monroe.

The Osborne Brothers, Sonny Osborne and Bobby Osborne, were an influential and popular bluegrass act during the 1960s and 1970s. They are probably best known for their No. 33 1967 country hit song, "Rocky Top", written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and named after a Tennessee location.

J. D. Crowe American musician

James Dee Crowe is an American banjo player and bluegrass band leader. He first became known during his four-year stint with Jimmy Martin in the 1950s.

Three important components of Martin's unique sound, besides his cutting tenor voice, were tight trio singing, sometimes a female high-baritone fourth part, and the use of a snare drum in place of mandolin to keep the back-beat.

Among Martin's biggest hits of the 1960s were "Hit Parade of Love", "Sophronie", "Stepping Stones", "Tennessee", and "Widow Maker" (a popular truck driver's song). His instrumentals (with the Sunny Mountain Boys) such as "Theme Time", "Bear Tracks" and "Red Rooster" featured ultra-crisp playing by a series of banjo players including Sam "Porky" Hutchins, J.D. Crowe, Vernon McIntyre Jr. and Bill Emerson, and powered by Martin's guitar runs, set a standard for bluegrass instrumentals that was highly influential.

William Hundley "Bill" Emerson, Jr. is an American five-string banjo player known for being one of the founding members of the original The Country Gentlemen and Emerson & Waldron.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys included singer and instrumentalist Gloria Belle, who is considered the first female lead singer in bluegrass. [4] [5] She toured Japan with Martin during 1975. [6] In regards to her playing, Martin said jokingly, "She's not very good, but we let her sing with us 'cause we feel sorry for her." [5]

Martin was famous as a dangerously unpredictable but highly entertaining stage presence. He freely acknowledged his problems with drinking and volatile mood swings, which kept him from realizing his lifelong dream of joining the Grand Ole Opry.

He made frequent appearances on the Louisiana Hayride and Wheeling, West Virginia's WWVA Jamboree (renamed Jamboree U.S.A. in the 1960s), as well as the Grand Ole Opry, but was never invited to join the latter. In 1973, he performed on Bill Monroe's Brown County Jamboree. [7]

He performed on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1971 album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken as well as Volume II (1989) and Volume III (2002).

He joined producers Randall Franks and Alan Autry for the In the Heat of the Night (TV Series) cast CD "Christmas Time's A Comin'" performing "Christmas Time's A Comin'" with the cast on the CD released on Sonlite and MGM/UA for one of the most popular Christmas releases of 1991 and 1992 with Southern retailers.


Martin died May 14, 2005, in Nashville, Tennessee, after having been diagnosed with bladder cancer more than a year earlier. He is interred in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Madison, Tennessee. A report of his death in the Toronto Star called him "one of the greatest vocalists in bluegrass". [8]


In 1995, Martin was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor. A documentary on his life, King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin, was released in 2003. Martin is also featured in the documentary film High Lonesome.

Martin's hobby was raccoon hunting with dogs; he featured his hunting dogs on the covers of several LP albums and wrote songs celebrating their prowess. His troubles with the Nashville music industry are memorialized in "The Death of Jimmy Martin", a song by Tom Russell on The Wounded Heart of America album.



YearAlbum US Country Label
1960Good 'n CountryDecca
1962Country Music Time
1963This World Is Not My Home
1964Widow Maker
1965Sunny Side of the Mountain
1966Good 'n Country Music
1967Big and Country Instrumentals
1969Free Born Man
1970Singing All Day
1972I'd Like to Be Sixteen Again
1973Moonshine HollowCoral
1974Fly Me to FriscoMCA
1978Greatest Bluegrass HitsGusto
1980Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Me'n Old Pete
To Mother at Christmas
First Time Together(with Ralph Stanley)
1982One Woman Man


YearSingle US Country Album
1958"Rock Hearts"14single only
1959"Night"26Good'n Country
1964"Widow Maker"19Widow Maker
1966"I Can't Quit Cigarettes"49Good'n Country Music

Guest singles

YearSingleArtistUS CountryAlbum
1973"Grand Ole Opry Song" Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 97 Will the Circle Be Unbroken

See also

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  1. Morris, Edward. "King of Bluegrass Jimmy Martin, Dead at 77". www.cmt.com - May 14, 2005
  2. Johnson, Anne. "Jimmy Martin Biography". musicianguide.com. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
  3. Rosenberg, Neil V.; Wolfe, Charles K. (1989). Bill Monroe: Bluegrass 1950–58. Holste-Oldendorf, Germany: Bear Family Records GmbH. ISBN   978-3-924787-13-4.
  4. Goldsmith, Thomas. The Bluegrass Reader. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004. p. 285.
  5. 1 2 Artis, Bob. Bluegrass: from the lonesome wail of a mountain love song to the hammering drive of the Scruggs-style banjo, the story of an American musical tradition. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1975. p. 73
  6. "TranAgent Company. "Bio." Gloria-Belle.com. 2007". Gloriabelle.com. Archived from the original on December 21, 2009. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
  7. http://countrydiscography.blogspot.no/2011/07/bill-monroe-part-ii.html
  8. "Bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin plucked at 77", Toronto Daily Star, May 17, 2005