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Monday, April 15, 2013

Do You Call That A Buddy - Martin, Bogan and Armstrong

Carl Martin was part of a rich musical tradition in Appalachia - a tradition that saw blues and ragtime mesh with pop and the styles of white musicians from rural mountain communities... a tradition that defies most conventional images of music from Appalachia... a tradition that produced some of the finest American music that you can find anywhere. Martin was born near Big Stone Gap, Virginia on April 15, 1906. The town recently memorialized his musical contributions with a historical marker. Click here to read more about the memorial and Martin himself. He is said to have been able to play any instrument with strings, and his career spanned several decades playing solo and in bands including the Four Keys, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, the Wandering Troubadours and Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong. Martin moved to Knoxville, TN with his family when he was twelve. His older brother taught him to play guitar and he soon learned other stringed instruments and began playing regularly around the Knoxville area. In the late 20s he formed his own band with Howard Armstrong. They called themselves the Tennessee Chocolate Drops. During these early years, they developed a repertoire that included not only blues, ragtime and jazz, but also hillbilly styles and Tin Pan Alley pop songs. They debuted in 1930 on WROL in Knoxville. They proceeded to make their first record on the Vocolian label. Soon after, they teamed up with guitarist and singer Ted Bogan. They migrated to Chicago where they found themselves often playing in white immigrant neighborhoods. They drew heavily upon Howard Armstrong's experience growing up in LaFollete, TN where early industry had created an ethnically diverse community. In this atmostphere, Armstrong had learned several languages and styles of music that served the band well when they started "pullin' doors" in the big city. Martin began recording under his own name in 1934. Over the years he recorded with a number of labels including Vocolian, Decca, Bluebird and Champion. In 1941 he joined the army and did not really return professionally to music until 1966 when he was swept up by the folk revival and recorded an album for Testament called Crow Jane Blue. Then, after more than thirty years, he was reunited with Bogan and Armstrong. As "Martin, Bogan and Armstrong," they toured folk and blues festivals, coffeehouses and college campuses. They recorded three more albums for Rounder and Flying Fish. Martin died in 1979 at the age of 73. Bogan and Armstrong continued playing and were the subjects of a feature-length documentary by Terry Zwiggoff in 1985. The documentary is entitled Louie Bluie (after Armstrong's stage name). You can hear some of Carl's story in his own words by listening to the interview posted above. There's also a short interview and some music in the video to the left.

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