FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER
AUGUST 17, 2011 –
By Steve Marschke
A certain graduate of the Class of 1967, James Marshall High School, will return to his hometown of West Sacramento tomorrow night. He’ll bring his blues harmonica and a band.
“Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers” will play in the cozy new Black Box Theater inside the city community center on Thursday evening. Martin, a West Sacramento native, told the News-Ledger he was looking forward to the visit. He said he has fond memories of his time growing up in West Sac.
Martin attended James Marshall High, precursor to the current River City High.
“I was in the first play ever produced at the school, and became famous for playing Conrad Birdie in ‘Bye Bye, Birdie. West Sacramento holds a lot of wonderful memories. In high school, I started forming bands – the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and that’s when it started for me. I played in the school band, and wrote for the paper there.”
Martin, 62, has had an eclectic career, much of it centered around music. Saturday afternoons, he is the voice and the host behind “Mick Martin’s Blues Party” on Capital Public Radio. The show can be heard over the airwaves throughout the Sacramento area (as well as Stockton, Modesto, Reno and Lake Tahoe) and it’s “streamed” over the Internet to an appreciative audience elsewhere.
“A lot of people who lived in West Sacramento with me listen to us on the computer,” Martin said. “We have folks in London, listening to us at 9 p.m. their time. We have people from the Yardbirds (a vintage rock group that included guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck Jimmy Page) listen to us.”
The radio show gives Martin a chance to share his love of music – in particular, blues music and blues-influenced music. He feeds the airwaves from a large personal music collection.
“I have 10,000 CDs, at least, and I’ve got about 800 LP (records),” he said. “It’s a no-repeat show. I don’t just play my favorites over and over.”
“Blues is the foundation for soul music, rockabilly, rock and roll,” Martin explained. “British blues is an interesting incarnation, like the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin – there was no reason for them to be playing something that was an African American art form, except that they responded to it.”
Martin is working with the YoloArts organization, bringing this blues passion to kids in the classroom.
“You have to approach it from the standpoint of explaining how rap, heavy metal and other forms of music relate to the blues,” he said. “I teach harmonica in some of the classes. If you play harmonica for the blues, there’s a magical thing about it where you can’t make a mistake – you can just get better at it.”
As a musician, Martin has had a lot of moments he’s proud of, both inside and outside his own band. He’s been “sideman” to a lot of music greats:
“I’ve played with Bo Diddley, with Elvin Bishop. I’ve played with Jimmy Smith, who basically ‘invented’ the organ. I got to play in London and Oxford when the scene was going really strong over there.”
Martin has shared the stage at Carnegie Hall with Smith, the jazz organist, and he played the 40th anniversary Woodstock concert at Golden Gate Park with Harvey Mandel.
“Playing in front of 70,000 people is a big thrill,” he recounted.
Interspersed with a music career have been a teaching career and some journalism. He earned an AA degree from Sacramento City College, and got his nose into a career reviewing movies when the now-defunct Sacramento Union offered him a chance to review a science fiction movie they didn’t think was important. It was called “Star Wars.”
Martin wrote the review, and continued working for the Union from 1976 to 1993.
The film review work led to the publication of “Video Movie Guide,” a book he published in 1988 as an information source for movie rentals.
“It was the first book to come out and review movies available on video,” he recalled.
Martin has taught journalism at the community college level. And he sounds grateful that he’s accomplished so many of his life’s goals.
“I never wanted to do just one thing,” he said. “I’ve always loved music. When I was at James Marshall High School, I had a goal to write a book, make a record and be in a movie. I’ve done all those. I’ve actually had parts in several movies – in Jamie Kennedy’s ‘Heckler,’ ‘Escapes,’ with Vincent Price, and in a Tim Conway comedy (“Dorf Goes Auto Racing” – Martin plays a hotel manager). . . I can say that I’ve never truly worked a day in my life.”
“Mick Martin the Blues Rockers” formed in 1983, and as the name suggests, the band will rock as well as play the blues, said Martin. The lineup has evolved over the years, and he’s proud that he will be bringing some original band members to West Sacramento tomorrow.
“”I’m thrilled that we have what to me is the best lineup we’ve ever had. These are people who helped with the most important music we’ve had together.”
The lineup includes guitarist Tim Barnes bassist Steve Schofer, organist Russ Skarsten and drummer Bruce Pressley.
Martin is lead singer, songwriter, arranger and bandleader, as well as “blues harp” player.
Coming back together with some of the original band members from past decades was easy, he said.
“It was instant,” he said, “since they helped create the sound of the Blues Rockers.”
And Martin’s family life?
Martin is married and lives in Antelope. A 26-year old daughter is “about to make me a grandfather, in October,” he reports.
His daughter is not following in his footsteps as a professional musician. And he’s okay with that, because “it’s easier that way.”
Thursday’s show is scheduled for 7-8:30 p.m. at the theater, 1075 West Capitol Avenue. It’s presented by YoloArts. $5 advance donation or $7 at the door. For advance tickets, visit www.yoloarts.org/boxoffice.php, or call (530) 406-4844. For more information on Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers, visit www.mickmartinblues.com.