BOOK REVIEW Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler, My Life With Jimmy Martin Barbara Martin Stephens


Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler, My Life With Jimmy Martin

Barbara Martin Stephens

     I am still a long-time fan and friend of Jimmy Martin,
and as President of the National Traditional Country Music Association,
I can honestly say, “I believe Jimmy Martin was the very best rhythm
guitar player with incredible powerful cadence in his playing….ever. 
He was also one of the very best bluegrass vocalists to ever come out of
the Appalachian Mountains. The ‘power’ he exhibited in his vocalizing
was sometimes unbelievable.  I can also say, knowing him for so long,
including having him on my PBS-TV television show “Old Time Country
Music” Jimmy Martin was probably his own worst enemy.  I and my wife
Sheila had already had him on my various festivals several times, and we
also performed on festivals he was featured on as well.  Jimmy had a
problem with the bottle, and sometimes the bottle won.  That is probably
the basis with which Barbara Martin Stephens wrote this amazing book
about her time with a ‘ramblin’ man, and  bearing his children.  She is
so very candid in everything she writes about, the book takes you
directly to the ‘story’ that she is telling, and sometimes you can
almost ‘feel’ the sorrow she experienced, the ‘thrills’ she experienced,
the ‘happiness’ she also felt.  I believe perhaps Eddie Stubbs, the
Grand Ole Opry announcer, said it best of all….”While the music of
Jimmy Martin is documented for the ages, his detailed personal life has
never been so thoroughly told until now…Brutally honest, this book
runs the gamut of emotions giving us a first-person account of one of
the most talented – yet complicated – performers during the golden years
of country and bluegrass music.” 

     In one of my own last communications with Jimmy
Martin, was when he was deeply involved in creating the video classic
“That High Lonesome Sound.”  I called him often, and when he answered
the phone this time, he knew who I was immediately, ‘that guy from
Iowa.”  I asked him what he was up to, and he told me he was working
with a film crew at that very moment, and I somehow knew what he wanted
me to say was “How come you’ve never been a member of the Grand Ole
Opry” which was all it took for him to satisfactorily answer that, just
as he wanted.  You can still hear that conversation on that super good
video production. I was also well aware of Jimmy Martin’s ups and downs,
experiencing a rather strange occurance in Indianapolis, Indiana,
during the Indy-500. The Shriners had a huge auditorium in downtown
Indianapolis, and decided to host a huge country music festival in the
evening hours when there wasn’t much going on at the races.  They had
every super star in the business on this event it seemed, including
unknowns like myself and Danny McElroy’s Bluegrass Playground band, who
backed me at this time.  It was an incredible star-studded show, and as
we were about to go on stage, following none other than George Strait,
as we went up the steps to the stage, George said to me, “You sure ain’t
going to like what’s out there” and left in a hurry like he didn’t like
it either.  Didn’t take long to find out, there was something like
seven people in the audience.  You say whaaaat?  True.  It was a
fiasco. You should have seen some of the super-stars phoning their
attorneys and agents in Nashville, getting pretty loud I’d also
say.  Later, Danny asked if I wouldn’t go out to Jimmy Martin’s bus and
ask him if he might want to jam awhile at the Holiday Inn where we were
staying.  I wanted Danny to go, but he said ‘you got more pull.’  Yeah
right.  I went out to the bus where the front door was wide open.  I
knocked several times, nothing.  Knocked again, and heard voices
talking.  So, I went on inside the bus, nobody was there, but the voices
were coming from the back, so I knocked on the door, and Jimmy Martin
was right there, asking “Who the hell are you and what are you doing on
my bus?”  I was startled to say the least, Jimmy Martin was buck naked. 
I blurted, stammered, heed and hawed, and finally blurted out that our
bluegrass band was wondering if he might be interested in jamming with
us at the Holiday Inn.  Just then a very attractive woman walked by the
side of the bed, also unclothed, and Jimmy Martin looked me in the eye,
and in his high tenor voice said rather loudly, “Do I look like someone
who wants to go jamming?”  I apologized profusely, and backed out of the
bus while he shut the door.  I can tell you, I’ll never do that again,
no matter what, but it was an insight into the ‘life’ of Jimmy Martin,
the King of Bluegrass Music.  Barbara Martin Stephens book is full of
these kinds of experiences with Jimmy.  Jimmy and I remained good
friends right up to the day he died, and I still hold him to be one of
the super-stars of bluegrass music, and I dearly wish his own ‘last
desire’ could have been honored by being a member of the Grand Ole
Opry.  Never happened of course, but sometimes ‘dreams’ are just
that……dreams. The book is available for $19.95 from the University
of Illinois Press.  Go to the authors website

BOOK REVIEW BY BOB EVERHART, President, National Traditional Country Music Assn., for Country Music News International

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One Response

  1. Thank you so very much for your awesome review of my book, "Don't Give Your Heart To A Rambler, My Life With Jimmy Martin, King of Bluegrass." I also enjoyed your comments about Jimmy. Never encountered anything like that (except for catching him in our bedroom) but, if I had, I can guarantee you they would be off the bus in no time flat.

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