You know the saying 'anywhere a truck driver eats, you know the food has got to be good'? Well, that's how I felt about John Arthur Martinez when I first heard about him. He's a good friend and has done projects with my friend Mike Blakely. Anyone Mike associates with just has to be good, in my opinion. Mike only works with the best. With that in mind, I knew I had to get to know more about jAm. Yep, that's how he writes it and what his friends call him. It's a nod to his writing-major past... after the poet, e.e. cummings.
Born in Austin, TX, John Arthur Martinez grew up listening to his relatives harmonize on mariachi ballads.
Trying to head in a more traditional direction, he graduated from Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and broadcast journalism (and minors in speech and philosophy) and then entered graduate school at the University of Arizona in Tucson. But he couldn't stay away from music and continued to hone his song craft in college town coffeehouses. From there it's pretty much been a steady climb. He has nine albums including a live album and has appeared on two Christmas albums. His tenth album - 'You Play My Heart' was released on Saturday (I'll have a review tomorrow). jAm lives in Marble Falls TX with his family.
Let's pull the gate for John Arthur Martinez!
I’m going to step back in time for a moment with this interview and apprise some of you of something you did not know. jAm was a contestant on the first season of Nashville Star, coming a close second to winner, Buddy Jewel and ahead of one of today’s hottest female vocalists, Miranda Lambert. Great company to be in.
You had already released thre albums, ‘Spinning Our Wheels’ and ‘Stand Your Ground’ and On the Border (with many former Asleep at the Wheel veterans). Why did you make the decision to do Nashville Star? And what’s the most important thing you learned about yourself from the experience? I really didn't want to enter what I first thought was a frivolous contest, but after pressure from a local fan, a call from the talent buyer Hill's Cafe, the host venue for the local competition, and encouragement from my wife, Yvonna, I took the leap of Faith.
Do you remember what your first career decision was after coming out of Nashville Star (2003) and did the show have any impact on what has brought you to this point? My first decision was to sign with Stuart Dill of Refugee Management, who handled Jo Dee Messina at the time, and while Stuart is really a great guy and a nice person, for business purposes he chose to hand me off to a new partner in his firm named Norbert Nix, who wasn't in a financial position to devote to my career at that time. They bailed on me just as my new album was being released by Dualtone Records and distributed by Sony. In hind sight that may not have been the wisest choice because Stuart Dill had steered me toward The William Morse Agency, even though they weren't passionate about booking me like another agency had shown. But this all said, the limelight from Nashville Star has led to an international fan base that is still with me; many of these fans book me for private house concerts all over the map.
Your solid in your Texas roots and it shows in your music. What is it about Texas music that makes it so special? Texas brings many influences to the mix. Six flags flew over the Lone Star state and the mix of the German settlers, the Mexican culture, the Austin scene, the singer-songwriter culture, and more work together to create many unique artists like Willie, like Lyle, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly, ZZ Top, George Strait, Janice Joplin etc.
Your journey has a long list of great influences. Who do you think are some of the current artists that will continue to influence future performers? That's a hard one as I'm influenced by many, but I'd have to say that I'm most influenced by the serious singer-songwriters like Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Walt Wilkins, Rodney Crowell and others like them.
You’ve recorded with some great people in Texas music, been awarded Record of the Year in 2005 and 2010 as well as Entertainer of the Year in 2006 with the Texas Music Awards and other nominations. You are highly respected in the Texas music industry. Those are all great reasons to walk a little high in your boots. What keeps John Arthur Martinez grounded? My Faith, my wife, my love of small town life.
You parallel your varied music styles to a menu – ‘It all comes out of the same kitchen’. Is there anything new on ‘You Play My Heart’ we might not have seen on the menu before? There are two tracks entirely in Spanish, something I didn't do on Purgatory Road or Lone Starry Night. Plus it includes only the players from Central Texas and the Texas Hill Country. Furthermore, I had a hand in most of the mixing and engineering, all of which give this album more of an organic feel.
You had your first poem published at the age of 9, you have a Bachelors in English and you continue to write – reinforcing the singer-songwriter are the best match with oneself as an artist. Does a song come all at once or do you have to work at it over a period of time? Can you give us examples of your songs that hit either of those marks? Usually it's a simultaneous process but sometimes the lyrics come first and on occasion the melody first. On this song "You Play My Heart" that I co-wrote with Jan Landry, the melody and the lyrics came together quickly. On "Emmylou's Guitar" it evolved over time, but again the lyrics and the melody were written simultaneously.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received you would pass on to other artists?
My mentor Kent Finlay, from the San Marcos, TX area told me to write about what you know!
I want to thank jAm for taking the time out of a very busy schedule to do this for us. Tomorrow, I'll have a review of the brand new CD - You Play My Heart. I hope you'll come back.
You can find all of jAm's former albums currently on his page at My Texas Music To pick up his new CD, check out his website... www.johnarthurmartinez.net