Jimmy Martin in 1958

When rebel bluegrass king Jimmy Martin died of bladder cancer at 77 in the Alive Hospice in Nashville he had long shared a snubbing with Hank Williams.

But unlike Hank, who was also shunned by the Grand Ole Opry, he created his resting place well in advance.

Martin designed his own tombstone that was placed in the Spring Hill Cemetery in the Nashville suburb of Madison, Tennessee, more than five years ago.

The tombstone Martin erected for himself bears his photo and is topped by the legend "Now Sings in Heaven."

And it's engraved with nearly every one of his achievements including his induction into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honour in 1995.

Martin was thrilled to find a plot near Country Music Hall of Fame legend Roy Acuff and delighted in the notion the ''King of Country'' and the ''King of Bluegrass'' would rest in eternal proximity.

So he borrowed the text of the Hall of Honour plaque for use on his own gravestone.

That way he sidestepped the Grand Ole Opry who shunned him despite being subject of a book called True Adventures With The King of Bluegrass and the George Goehl documentary 2003 DVD - King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin.

Martin sometimes cried when he spoke of being left off the Opry roster, which he equated with the loneliness he felt after his father died.

''Ever since I was a little boy, I've felt left out of things,'' he told The Tennessean several years ago.

That was despite writing and recording the celebratory Grand Ole Opry Song - a number he believed would be a ticket to Opry membership.

"I think Jimmy is his own worst enemy," his former banjo player J.D. Crowe once said of the singer who continued performing in 2004.

"He's made a lot of mistakes, and he's alienated a lot of people - people who could have helped him had he let them."


Martin was born in Sneedville, a farming community in Tennessee's eastern hills.

Jimmy's father died when he was four and he spent much of his childhood ploughing corn.

He hunted and sold possum skins in order to buy his first guitar at the age of 10.

On Saturday nights he listened to Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and others on Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts from Nashville.
Martin dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

He did not get along well with his stepfather and with many co-workers once he left home.
He was fired from several jobs for singing while working.

In the Goehl film, King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin, the singer said his first guitar consisted of rubber bands stretched across a flat tin Prince Albert tobacco can.

Later, he learned basic guitar chords from a neighbour.

Martin played occasionally on radio stations in Knoxville and Morristown, Tennessee, in the late 1940s before heading to Nashville in 1949.


He ensured an audition for Bill Monroe's band in his own forthright way.

The singer headed backstage at the Grand Ole Opry and confronted Monroe who agreed to sing a dressing room duet.

Monroe was impressed by Jimmy's pure voice and guitar playing, and, in 1949, hired him - Martin replaced Mac Wiseman.

The two stayed together until 1954, playing on 46 recordings with their notable duets.

Bill Monroe

''Jimmy's strong, high vocal range pushed Monroe's tenor up into the sky, helping shape what has become known as the 'high lonesome sound,' '' Goehl wrote in the liner notes to Don't Cry To Me, a compilation that accompanied his King of Bluegrass documentary.

''He loved bluegrass music, country music,'' his son, Lee Martin of Plantation, Florida revealed.

''Bill Monroe was his idol and someone he patterned himself after musically.''

Martin's vocals ushered in the ''high, lonesome sound.''

With Monroe, Martin recorded songs including My Little Georgia Rose, Uncle Pen, In The Pines, Memories Of Mother And Dad and The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.

His rock-solid rhythm guitar fuelled the instrumental Raw Hide.

He later claimed to have assisted Monroe in the writing of Uncle Pen, Memories of Mother And Dad and others.

Martin left Monroe in 1951 and returned for another stint beginning in 1952.


Martin revealed his falling out with his former employer to the late Bill Monroe's biographer Richard Smith.

"Me and Bill Monroe, I would say, were as close as any two musicians have ever been when I was a Blue Grass Boy," Martin confessed.

"But when I went out on my own and my records started getting up on the charts, he started to ignore me and wouldn't even talk to me. It seemed like the more popular I was, the less he cared for me."

Two years later he entered a Nashville studio with a group including Bobby and Sonny Osborne (later of Rocky Top fame) and recorded six songs for RCA Victor, including the influential 20-20 Vision.

That group was short-lived but Mr. Martin's solo career was just beginning.

He recruited brilliant players Paul Williams, Bill Emerson and J.D. Crowe for his Sunny Mountain Boys.

Other members included famed songwriter Paul Craft (who got his start playing banjo with Jimmy), Doyle Lawson, Vernon Derrick, Audie Blaylock and many more.

Martin recorded classics Ocean of Diamonds, Saphronie, My Walking Shoes, Sunny Side of the Mountain, Widow Maker, (I've Got My) Future On Ice and Milwaukee, Here I Come.

His originals included All the Good Times Have Passed, Don't Cry to Me, Hit Parade of Love, Hold Whatcha Got and Tennessee.

Martin and his energetic band performed as members of the Louisiana Hayride from 1957 to 1959 and of the Wheeling Jamboree in West Virginia from 1959 to 1962.

''In his heyday, he could take an audience of any size and have them eating out of his hand,'' said Sunny Mountain Boy Emerson.

''He'd just smoke those people, and they'd be waiting in line for him when he got offstage.''

In 1958 Martin began an 18-year career with Decca (later MCA) Records.

He charted that year with Rock Hearts, which went to #14.

It was the highest position he ever reached on the charts although he made the Top 20 in 1964 with his trucker anthem, Widow Maker.


Martin expanded beyond country and bluegrass in 1972 when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band invited him to join them in recording Will the Circle Be Unbroken - a triple album of traditional tunes with such country music luminaries as Mother Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson.

The album yielded Martin his last chart single, Grand Ole Opry Song, which peaked at #97 in 1973.

His was the first voice heard on the first NGDB disc and sang on the subsequent two volumes as well.

His appearances brought his voice and feisty spirit to audiences that may have never attended a bluegrass festival.

''Jimmy's temperature is higher than the rest of ours,'' said Dirt Band member Jeff Hanna in a 2002 interview.

''He's a wild man in the best sense of the term, and he's the only one who brought the fire of rockabilly music to bluegrass.''

Even when he was a guest he offered direction with an incorrigible insistence.

"Pick the banjo solid," he instructed the band's John McEuen as he prepared to kick off a Martin classic.

Jimmy Martin

"You been pickin' one for 15 years, ain't you?"

Martin's energetic performances were rewarded with glowing international reviews.


Jimmy Martin at 23
Martin left MCA Records in 1974 and recorded for a number of independent labels.

His novelty songs Goin' Ape Over You and Skip, Hop and Wobble, also impacted.

"If I'm singing a funny song, I want everyone to whoop and holler and dance," he explained in a 1999 interview.

"And when I sing 'Shake Hands With Mother Again' or a good gospel song, I'm thinking of good things, thinking of heaven, someday we're all going to be there. And if I sing a sad song, I feel sadness in my mind, in my heart, and just like I could cry. But I can't cry and put on - it has to come out just right, you see."

When Martin was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honour in 1995, he accepted the award with characteristic tact.

"I don't know if I should say this or not," he said.

"I wanted to be up here a lot earlier. But looks like they run out of anybody to give it to, and they decided to give it to me tonight."

In 1994 Bear Family Records released the most comprehensive single collection of his work - the five-CD 146-song box set Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys.

His childhood obsession with hunting racoons never faded.

So on Run Pete Run and Pete, The Best Coon Dog In The State Of Tennessee, Martin celebrated his hound dogs by allowing Pete to howl on the record.

Martin's funeral was held at Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tennessee.

Survivors include three sons, Lee Martin of Plantation, Florida, James H. ''Timmy'' Martin of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Ray Martin of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, daughter, Lisa S. Martin-Arnold of Hendersonville; and three grandchildren.

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