Of all the country boogie songs (and there are many), perhaps the most unusual is Grady Martin’s hymn to the least fashionable style of men’s underwear – Long John Boogie.
Household name he may not be but Grady Martin, a Tennessee farm boy who had a horse called Trigger, is actually one of the most ubiquitous session musicians in the history of country music and rockabilly.
As part of the legendary Nashville A-Team, his guitar licks adorn literally hundreds of hit singles over a 30-year period from the early 1950s. That’s him playing on countless classics: Patsy Cline’s Crazy and Walkin’ After Midnight, Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman, Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again.
He even plays the nylon-string Spanish guitar on Marty Robbins’s El Paso – the song that defined ‘Western’ music, as distinct from country music, back in 1959.
He was equally ubiquitous on the live circuit too, backing everyone from Hank Williams and Elvis Presley to Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie and Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and Brenda Lee, among many more.
Grady Martin started performing on Nashville radio in the 1940s when he was just 15 and made his recording debut two years later in Chicago, going on to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in the Arkansas Cotton Pickers before joining the Country Boys band of Little Jimmy Dickens.
Also a respected studio guitarist and fiddler, he was signed to Decca Records in 1951 with his own country-jazz band, Grady Martin and the Slew Foot Five – as on this recording from 1955 – and later, after he introduced his revolutionary new twin-neck Bigsby guitar, as Grady Martin and his Winging Twins.
He also made a piece of music history when he accidentally discovered the ‘fuzz’ guitar effect by running his six-string bass through a faulty channel in a mixing console while recording Don’t Worry with Marty Robbins, creating a sound that would go on to become a staple of rock music for evermore.
Grady was married three times and had ten children. A southern boy to the end, he died from a heart attack in 2001 in Lewisburg, Tennessee – the town where he was born 72 years earlier.