Dancing shoes required
Veteran guitarist pledges to move your feet at street dance
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 08, 2012 06:00 am
Gary Martin and the Heavenly Blues Band
Rock'n August Street Dance
Friday, Aug. 10 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Downtown St. Albert
Listening to Gary Martin is like reliving 50 years of rock and roll, blues, funk and R&B history all rolled into one. Based in both Calgary and Chicago, Martin has a musical pedigree that makes most other musicians pale in comparison.
Born in Chicago’s west end, he was five years old when his great aunt gave him his first guitar. Tutored by his uncle Hubert Sumlin, the legendary bluesman, Martin developed quickly and was soon sharing the stage with Howlin’ Wolf before he was officially old enough to be in a blues house.
“It’s a craft to us. It’s a way of life,” says Martin, adding that his uncle influenced every guitar great through the decades, including Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
“He never used a pick and played with his fingers. When you play with your fingers, you develop a different tone and he could go at any speed. He was the man who started it all.”
But it was Martin’s love of the Motor City sound that took him to Detroit. With his solid background in jazz as well as blues, he was among Motown’s finest musicians.
Under the direction of Choker Campbell, the Father of Motown, Martin was groomed as a bandleader, musical director and entertainer.
Through the years he’s shared stages and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bo Diddley, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, The Platters, Chuck Berry, Wynton Marsalis, Santana and of course the touring Funk Brothers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
For Martin, getting up on a stage is more than just playing a catalogue of songs. It’s telling stories and passing on the African-American culture.
That’s what will happen at Rock’n August’s annual street dance this Friday in downtown St. Albert, where Martin is headlining with The Heavenly Blues Band.
The band members include an eclectic mix of talents, with Sheri Peters (vocals), Marvelous Marvin (sax), Blair Parfett (keyboards), Anthony Davis (bass) and Edward Hawkins (singer).
Martin’s move to Canada was prompted in 1977 when he was stationed with the American military in Chicago. He would moonlight with guitar on the side, but quickly learned why he didn’t want to work in that city.
“Chicago had too many gangs, too much violence,” he said.
After meeting a lady from Canada, he followed his heart and moved to Montreal. Although the romance fizzled, Martin’s career flourished as bandleader for two prominent funk bands – Canadian Express and Something Extra. The latter band received a Juno nod.
With five decades experience under his belt, he’s earned the right to coast. But Martin refuses.
“You always want to do it right. I want to bring the same memories I had when I was a kid,” he says.
But he worries about young blues musicians today.
“They don’t have the mentoring I did. If you don’t understand the culture and the feeling, you can’t play the music. And the mentoring polished what you did. A business wants to make money and they polished your act so you would make money for them.”
While there’s a strong funk and R&B groove to Martin’s music, the Rock’n August street dance is going to be weighted heavily in favour of rock ‘n roll.
But he’s also no stranger to that.
“I’m bringing my A-squad,” he pledged. “You bring your dancing shoes and get ready to move, with tunes from the ’50s and ’60s you haven’t heard in a long time.”