Artist Details

Grady Martin

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 of four children, he was taught the piano by his mother and took up guitar with help from his older brother, and also became proficient on the fiddle at an early age. When Martin was 15, his fiddle playing got him a gig playing in the band of Nashville radio personality Big Jeff Bess. Two years later, he joined the Bailes Brothers, with whom he played guitar as well as fiddle. He was 17 when he appeared on his first recording, at a session for Curly Fox & Texas Ruby, and during this period Martin started working regularly with fellow guitarist Jabbo Arrington. By the end of the 1940s, he and Arrington had become a double-guitar act as part of Little Jimmy Dickens' Country Boys, and it was there -- after Arrington's departure -- that Martin teamed up with steel guitar player Thumbs Carllile. Martin first emerged as a star before the public on his instrument in 1950 with the release of Red Foley's hit "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy"; he later took up Foley's offer to lead his band. Martin spent the next few years playing with Foley's band, in appearances on Ozark Jubilee as well as on the road and all of his sessions, and on dozens of other artists' recordings as well. By 1952, he was working almost exclusively on guitar -- his fiddle playing was confined primarily to recording sessions, the last in 1955, in conjunction with star instrumentalists Tommy Jackson and Hank Garland; indeed, the last time Martin played fiddle in front of an audience was in 1952, accompanying Hank Williams in the latter's appearance on the Kate Smith show, one of the most watched country music clips in television history. Martin also led his own band, the Slew Foot Five, starting in 1951. Their history was a bit uneven -- working on records by Burl Ives ("Wild Side of Life") and Bing Crosby ("Till the End of the World"), they rode to the upper reaches of the country and pop charts. But their own recordings, done for Decca, fared a lot less well, failing to chart despite numerous attempts across the decade on singles and LPs. Meanwhile, Martin continued playing on hundreds of recordings by other artists, including a ton of music cut by the likes of Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, Patsy Cline, and Hank Locklin.

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