January 27, 2021
When Carolyn Martin was 16, she sat alone in a restaurant booth in Abilene, Texas, crying over a breakup.
“I had a crush on some boy, and he had broken my heart,” she said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “I can’t even remember who it was.”
In those days, restaurant booths were often equipped with small jukeboxes and the teary-eyed Martin selected a tune.
She may not remember the boy today, but she remembers the tune: Freddie Hart’s only number one hit, “Easy Loving.”
Easy lovin’, seein’s believin’
Life with you’s like livin’ in a beautiful dream
It’s the opposite of a breakup song, but it helped Carolyn feel better. It also helped her appreciate the power of music.
“It’s one of the best country records ever made as far as I am concerned,” she said.
Growing up in Abilene
Carolyn had been learning guitar for two years at that point and she has since devoted decades of her life to connecting with people through music.
In recent years, Carolyn Martin has become one of the most highly respected practitioners of the western swing tradition in the world. In even more recent years, she became a Fort Wayne resident.
She will perform with her full band on Feb. 4 at the Club Room.
Carolyn Martin’s full band features her longtime husband, Dave, on bass. If you are lucky enough to have caught their living room and kitchen duets on Facebook during the pandemic, then you are well acquainted with their extraordinary musical chemistry.
Dave and Carolyn grew up on opposite sides of Abilene and went to different schools.
Carolyn got a job at a music store that Dave frequented, and she eventually hired him to play bass on a recording project.
They ended up dating for three years and got married in 1981.
The early years of their marriage were spent on the road in various bands. They didn’t have a musical specialty in those days.
“We did top 40 country,” Carolyn said. “Whatever that was at the time. Top 40 pop. For a short time, we even did disco. We were trying to make a living. Whatever they were paying us to play, that’s what we were playing.”
In 1985, the Martins decided that we had to put down roots somewhere.
“If we didn’t,” she said, “we knew that 20 years would pass, and we’d still be doing the same thing.”
They tried Dallas, but that didn’t work out. Then they tried Nashville, which did.
The Martins made ends meet by playing wedding receptions and corporate gigs, many of them at the Opryland Hotel.
On one job, Carolyn was dressed as Patsy Cline, singing versions of Cline’s hits that had been altered to reflect the corporate client.
“We did some crazy stuff,” she said. “But it was all great fun. Gosh, I loved doing that. I just wanted to work. It didn’t matter to me whether were playing downtown or at the Opryland Hotel. We played in people’s houses and we played in hotel rooms.”
A big Break with Time Jumpers
In 1999, Carolyn went to see some friends perform with their band, the Time Jumpers.
The Time Jumpers, a swing band, was only a year old at that point. They went on to win a Grammy award in 2017 (and count Vince Gill as a member).
The Time Jumpers asked Martin to sit in and, before long, she was a full member of the group.
“There were 9 or 10 people in the band at that point,” she said. “And often we outnumbered the people who had come to hear us.”
Carolyn was involved with the Time Jumpers for 11 years before she left to form her own swing band.
Awards and accolades for the Martins’ western swing work followed, including a “Hero of Western Swing” honor from the Cowtown Society of Western Music. Carolyn has also won the Academy of Western Artists’ Will Rogers award many times.
Telling stories in Fort Wayne
Prior to Dave being summoned to Fort Wayne to work as a producer and house bass player at Sweetwater Sound, he had his own recording studio in Joelton, Tenn., called Java Jive.
He sold it to a man who intended to keep it a recording studio. Dave had to leave his massive book collection behind, so it is no surprise that the new owner of the studio decided to rename it the Library.
Before COVID-19 became a factor in the lives and livelihoods of most musicians, the Martins had a regular gig at Hall’s Guesthouse. The Guesthouse was one of the early casualties of the pandemic.
They also played several weekly concerts at various area retirement homes, Carolyn said, but the pandemic severely curtailed that as well.
The popular streaming shows that the Martins performed last year were an undeniable boon, however.
Carolyn said she doesn’t know when things will fully ramp back up, but something she heard actor Bryan Cranston say on a podcast gave her hope.
“He said people are always going to want to hear stories,” she said, “whether they’re two or 100. They will always want to hear stories and they will always want that communal experience of sitting in a room with strangers. I agree.
“Now, will we be able to sit shoulder-to-shoulder again for a while? I don’t know,” Carolyn said. “But, gosh, I am looking forward to that again.”
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