maybe someone enjoyes this as I did
Cadence - The American Review of Jazz & Blues
Vol. 3 Nos 1&2 , August 1977
Carl Martin: an Interview
Taken by Mike Joyce and Bob Rusch Transcribed by Bob Rusch
CARL MARTIN: I was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, 1906 on April the 1st.
CADENCE: Were your parents musically inclined?
CM: My daddy was . They called him Fiddlin' Martin. Roland was my older brother by my father' s first wife. I had three brothers ,two were half brothers.
I had taken up music from my half brother Roland Martin. He was known all around and when I met him I was around 16 or 17 years old, he was in his 40's then. He was older than my mother and he was blind. See my daddy was a slave he said he had been sold twice into slavery. So I guess I 'm the son of a slave. I had learnt to play a few numbers on the guitar by just listening to fellows that came around. Roland told my daddy, he said – WeIl, Carl can play a little guitar you ought to take him and teach him. He said "WeIl, there he is go ahead and teach him. I didn't want to play no music, I wanted to play around the streets, play with Dick, Tom and Harry. I couldn't whup my brother so he make me come in from school sit down and play the quitar. WeIl the guitar he had was a 12-strinq guitar, too big for me. So he got on a train and went to Ashville, North Carolina and he got a small guitar and brouqht it back. I practiced about a couple of weeks with him and then I was playinq with the band. Then I learnt the bass and he let me play that, but he wouldn ' t let me touch his violin, but I watch him all the time and finally learnt how to play it anyway. He had a mandolin too, and when I got ready to go into the army in the Iatter part of ' 41, a girl gave me a mandolin, it was Italian style and I learned to play it . I didn't get out of the army till ' 45, I went overseas to Hawaii and the Phillipines. They gave me a mandolin in the army, special service did , course mine got busted sticking in foxholes and water all runnin' in it. I used to play for the big dances and the lieutenants and colonels,although I was a mechanic in the special services . Everybody liked my playinq so I came back to Chicago and Mr. (Ted) Bogan was with me. We had been playinq and Mr. (Howard) Armstrong together since the early 30's. So we had retired from playing in '34, me and Armstrong we went back South and me and Ted strung around Chicaqo. We learned how to play different kinds of music in different neighborhoods. We didn't see Armstrong no more till '70, we got back together, when they wanted us back together for a festival and got his (Armstrongs) son to play bass. And we've been together ever since.
CAD : When did you first met Howard?
CM: When I first met Howard, my brother used to be a barber over in Lafollet, Tennessee. I didn't know him then but everybody there knew him and we would go around and play. I run into Mr. Armstrong over there he was a young boy. Hi was too young, his Mother didn't want him to leave and go on the road. But by us going up there pretty often than one day they decided to let him go. When he first left home he left home with me and we start out traveling like troubadours. He played the mandolin then and I played the guitar. We go from state to state hitchhiking; all over Virginia. West Virginia. Everywhere we go the man want us on the radio , we'd play requests. Came back home and a fellow came to me and wanted me to go to New York to make same records for Brunswick. We decided to go but he hadn ' t been home so long he wanted to see his parents first. We went home, but he got sick, they sent the ticket to Ashville , North Carolina but we wasn ' t there so he couldn't go on that trip. I met Ted Bogan in Knoxville , he was just on the road playing, I saw he could travel, he had the ability to learn, had potential and I say Okay, we get toqether. Armstrong came back with us and we had another boy played bass fiddle named Bill Ballinqer, l've never been able to catch up with him since we separated, but we´ve been going ever since.
CAD: Playing for the radio was that for a white audience?
CH: Yeah , white audience. and we play anything they call for . For my own enjoyment I like all kind of music. If I didn't know it i´d buy the piano score . I can read notes. I never did go to school to learn nothing. I used to sing in a choir when I was young and they made us sing the notes before the words so I knew the notes.
CAD : Whose idea was it to form the Tennessee Chocolate Drops?
CM : We got together and we wanted to find us a name so that we could be recognized. So Hr. Armstrong he said we'll call it Tennessee Chocolate Drops. So we went by that name . Then we used the name the Wanderinq Troubadors and broadcast under that name also all around Knoxville . But you see at that time I didn' t make that much playin'. See a lot of the white fellows they wouldn't play as good as me but they get the jobs. So we just hit the road. We didn't have a quarter in our pockets. We walk across the mountains at night, lay down the side of the road, have a rock for our pillow. Get up early in the morninq keep going from town to town. We'd go to the restaurants the barbershops anywhere that we could get in out on the street and get a crowd, they throw us money. Go into the jail house and play for the prisoners, out there you don't have much choice. I love to play and make folks happy.
CAD, Where did you meet Leroy Carr?
CM, I met him in Indianapolis Indiana, met Scrapper too, in the early 30', I played with him every night for so long everybody was looking for me , the police came and said “Your people want to know where you at “We'd go out every night and ball, have a good time. There used to be another boy named Bill on quitar playing with them but they cut him out. They went for me from Knoxville.
CAD, How 'bout Lonnie Johnson?
CM, Oh sure , played with him right here in Chicaqo. When I used to go down to the studio and record they used to call me Lonnie Johnson. Oh yeah, cause we played so much alike. I don't know why we played so much alike.
CAO : How have you seen Chicago blues changed?
CM: Well. before Muddy Water they had a different style here. Well, I liked the style better than i do today. Fellows today can't play like we played yesterday . They play different. We had to pick the guitar to play the blues. Nowadays they use a pick or something like that and you don't play like we used to play. It's just a feeling you put in your music and you play it your way - you can't put it on paper.
CAD: Did your brother record?
CM: No, but he could play that fiddle , I never did hear anyone play like him.
He ' s the one inspired Armstrong.
CAD: Do you recall the Mississippi Sheiks?
CM: Yeah, I'm one of the Mississippi Sheiks too. I recorded with them. I played the violin with them . Last time Walter Vincson recorded I recorded with them . He's dead now. Me and him and Ted Bogan and Sam Chapman recorded together.
CAD: What do you like to play?
CM: lt don't make me any difference - It's what the people like that's what I like to do, I play what they like. If they're happy l'm happy. If you can 't reach nobody you ain't nothin'. Music has to have variation to put the expression you want to put into it. You got to learn to play a piece and feel it.
CAD: Before you resumed active playing what were you doing?
CM: I was working for the Bureau of Electricity in Chicago . I worked for the city for about 15 years, pave streets, raise man holes, sanitary district , put up stop lights . I was playing now and then . But i´ll tell you I was working with those felllows. I didn't tell anybody I was a musician cause sometimes you tell people you are a musician they make fun of you. But around the first of April they gave a big partyso I said maybe I´ll go home and get my instrument and play for the party. So I came downand got a box with a guitar and we sat down there.
That day Mayor Dailey and big man from all over Chicaqo were there.So we started playing and they were surprised to know that I was a musician and that I could play like that. They came to me and asked me questions, this , that and another . Man, the next morning I com to work they bought me oour or five suits of clothes. And Dailey walked over to my bosshe said, look here, don't let him work, give him a job watchin'. I didn 't do a thing but sit down at the navy pier, way out at the end with beer and television.They didn 't need me out there because they had guards on the gate. A lot of brothers would have liked to have that job, all I do is put toilet paper in the bathroom, and sweep the floor and that ' s it - go out and fish, anything, wasn't anybody there but me. The boss took us out on the lake and play for parties and everything , we had it made. (Laughter).
CAD : Are you writing much music ?
CM : I don't do no writinq now, but when I want to make a piece 1 write a piece.
CAD : When did you begin to use electricity?
CM: I taken the electricity when I come out of the army . l'd go around club and taverns and they'd make so much noise you couldn't hear the mandolin much. So I just got me electric so you could hear me. Now I got a Gibson electric guitar .
CAD: Did you ever get into 12-string?
CM: I could never get use to it, too big for my fingers