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About The Artist
Asa Martin, a medicine show and vaudeville veteran, experienced a lengthy recording career in the years from 1928 through 1938. He proved to be a capable vocalist, often in duets, as well as a quality rhythm guitarist in support of legendary Kentucky fiddler Doc Roberts.
In old age, Asa enjoyed relating his experiences to country music scholars telling about his days as an old-time musician.
A native of Winchester, Kentucky, Martin absorbed a great deal of music in his younger days, expanding from primitive traditional sounds to the minstrel stage. His entry into the world of early recording came in April 1928 when Doc Roberts sought him out to play rhythm on his fiddle numbers. Asa soon demonstrated that he could hold his own as a singer, too, with a wide range of vocals.
Although he did solo numbers, the majority of his singing came with a duet partner, usually James Roberts, the son of Doc Roberts, beginning when the youngster was only ten years old. James's voice had not changed when they started and he was somewhat embarrassed when people would ask his dad, "Who is the little girl singing with Asa Martin?" Nonetheless, over a six-year period they recorded a goodly number of old time songs as Martin and Roberts. Asa and James sang duets and Doc Roberts played mandolin. When they did instrumentals, the label credit was usually to the Fiddling Doc Roberts Trio.
Prior to February 1931, they recorded exclusively for Gennett and associated labels. Afterwards, their numbers appeared on the labels associated with the American Record Corporation (Melotone et al). After 1934, this threesome did no more recordings together but in 1932 and 1933 Asa and Roy "Shorty" Hobbs did a couple of sessions for Gennett's subsidiary Champion label.
From 1935 onward—except for a 1938 Vocalion session with a new band, the Kentucky Hillbillies—Martin turned his attention to WLAP radio in Lexington where he had a program called the Morning Roundup. Among the younger artists who got their start on his show were Dave "Stringbean" Akeman and the Amburgey Sisters (Minnie, Mattie and Martha).
In 1940 the show moved to WCMI Ashland. After World War II, Martin left radio and worked for the ARMCO Steel Company, moving to Middletown, Ohio, and retiring in 1965.
In retirement Asa settled in Estill County, Kentucky where he and Jim Gaskin started a little country band called the Cumberland Rangers. In later years Gaskin became a key figure at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. A 1972 newspaper photo caption indicates the members of the group at that time were Asa Martin, Jim Gaskin, Buz Grazeale and Gilbert Thomas.
One of the other unique musical instruments he played was the musical saw.
In 1972, Gary Luhr wrote of a committee headed up by Loyal Jones of Berea College Appalachian Center. Others on the committee were Asa Martin, Buell Kazee, John Lair and Bradley Kincaid. Loyal had assigned students to learn a ballad. Some of them did not know what that was. Even after learning about the ballad, they could not sing the tune. Loyal realized they had a lot of written material about the ballads, but lacked sound. Loyal's defintion of a ballad was "... a song, usually of unknown origin, that tells a story about an event removed from the person singing. Many were brought to this country from Europe."
Loyal also spoke of the difference between the early folk singers and those of the modern era. He noted, "The older singers were very self-effacing. They didn't sing to show off their voices. Very often their voices were quite ordinary. Their purpose was to tell a story. The tune was incidental, though some were very beautiful."
But initially they played for local events in the Irvine area. In 1974, Asa, having been rediscovered by the music scholar community, recorded a quality album for Rounder entitled Dr. Ginger Blue in which he turned out new versions of some of his old classics such as "I Tickled Her Under the Chin" and "There's No Place Like Home for the Married Man." He also loved to talk with old time music scholars—including myself (Ivan Tribe)—about the early days of country music.
Asa Martin passed away of an apparent heart attack in his home on August 15, 1979. One of his last personal appearances was at the 4th Annual Kentucky Music Weekend at the Iroquois Amphitheatre in Iroquois Park, Louisivlle on the weekend of August 3 - 5, 1979.
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