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Roughneck Blues 1949-1956

Grady Martin

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Album Review

Strictly speaking, this isn't a Grady Martin CD so much as it's a compilation of recordings on which his guitar work as a session player figures prominently, although he's credited as the leader of the featured or backup group on a few of the cuts. Still, on most of these 32 tracks from 1949 to 1956 he was a hired hand, lending his licks to a wealth of hillbilly and rockabilly performers, including stars like Brenda Lee, Little Jimmy Dickens, Red Foley, Burl Ives, Johnny Horton, Wayne Raney, and a pre-fame Buddy Holly. There's even a bit of blues via his help on sides by Cecil Gant, as well as appearances on singles of various styles by a whole bunch of singers known only to collectors. Should you be interested in this material mostly for Martin's contributions, his guitar riffs are certainly excellent whether he's playing country boogie or moving into rock & roll, sometimes reeling off some scorching solos, at others offering more subordinate, sturdy work in service of the particular song. If you've got a wide taste for hillbilly and rockabilly of the period, however, it's a good listen no matter whether you're investigating it for Martin's participation or not. There's much energetic, good-humored music here from the time that country music was becoming more electrified and turning into different forms, including a couple acknowledged classics in Red Foley's "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy" and the Johnny Burnette Trio's "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" (though, as the liner notes acknowledge, Paul Burlison has accepted credit for playing on this particular rockabilly gem). Other significant pleasures include Holly's early efforts "Rock Around with Ollie Vee" and "Modern Don Juan"; Lee's fine rockabilly number "Bigelow 6-200"; the unhinged rockabilly of Don Woody's "Bird Dog" (not the same song as the Everly Brothers' hit), the best little-known track here; and Ives' nervy novelty "Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves," which is about as raucous as he ever got on record. Even some of the more generic hillbilly/rockabilly sides here, and there are a good number of those, pass by enjoyably enough due to both Martin's guitar playing and the overall ebullience of the performances. The only thing this comp can be criticized for is the absence of original release/recording dates and labels, though Dave Penny's liner notes are good.

Biography

Born: 17 January 1929 in Chapel Hill, TN

Genre: Traditional Pop

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

The chances are pretty good that if a country record had some distinctive guitar licks on it, anytime from the early '50s through the 1970s, they were played by Grady Martin. Along with Hank Garland and Chet Atkins — who, as a producer, regularly used Martin — he was one of the most prominent session guitarists in Nashville for 30 years. Thomas Grady Martin was born in Chapel Hill, TN, in early 1929, to a poor farming family living outside the tiny town of Lewisburg — the youngest...
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Roughneck Blues 1949-1956, Grady Martin
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