"We're all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while we're here"*

(*John Martyn talking about the themes of mortality on 1970’s Road To Ruin)


John Martyn’s two 1970 albums with his wife Beverley — Stormbringer! and Road to Ruin — are near perfect examples of lush, freewheeling ’70s folk music. There’s the intricate guitar picking that characterized his earlier work on albums like The Tumbler, and there are a few of the jazz affectations that defined his later, more experimental efforts like Bless The Weather and Solid Air. But mostly this is the sound of two people in love, holed up with pals like Levon Helm in the idyllic countryside of Woodstock NY — e.g. just look at the two Martyns huddled together on Stormbringer!‘s awesome cover (later appropriated by Wooden Wand & The Sky High Band for their 2006 album, Second Attention). On his website, John offers these memories of the sessions:

“It was the year of the festival. We just lived there and worked with Paul Harris very quickly and very briefly and we just went into the studio and did it very one-off, very swift. Levon Helm and Harvey Brooks we met in Woodstock and used them, just because they were friends. It seemed obvious that they should be on it. Dylan lived up the road, and Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing…a good lad.”

Here’s my favorite song from the album, the absolutely magnificent “John The Baptist.”

Download “John The Baptist”

On his 2006 tour Will Oldham was playing a hybridized cover version of Martyn’s “John The Baptist” and another song on the same subject by Virginia country gospel players E.C. and Ornal Ball. Here’s an acoustic version of Oldham’s medley, from his August 2006 run at Joe’s Pub in NYC. (Thanks to Aquarium Drunkard for posting the complete Joe’s Pub sets back in December).

Download Will Oldham’s “John The Baptist”

Road to Ruin–also recorded in 1970–has more of the same but with lots more jazz playing. It includes the melancholy vacation anthem “Give Us A Ring,” in which the couple ask their friend Nick Drake to bring them something cool back from his time abroad.

Download “Give Us A Ring”

Martyn went on to make weird, wonderful records that spanned folk, improv, ambient and reggae, but those two albums with his wife — they divorced in the late ’70s — will always be my favorites.

John Martyn died today of pneumonia. He was 60. Various obituaries and remembrances after the jump.

from The Guardian:

He was also a far more gentle soul than his image as a grizzled wildman suggests. Initially intimidated by the fact that he was gruff, large, bearded and extremely drunk, I found him to be someone whose acute sensitivity meant his existence was innately painful. Drink dulled that pain, and turned it into something Martyn could laugh at. His songs were an attempt to make sense of it. The music, as John Martyn said in what proved to be his final public speech, was the cool bit.

from The Telegraph:

The trappings of fame and celebrity held no interest for him, which is why one of the greatest, most exhilarating and innovative British albums of the past 50 years – 1973’s Solid Air – remains largely unrecognised by the general public.

from The Times:

His folk sound was transformed by his discovery of electronic guitar effects – first on Stormbringer, a 1970 collaboration with his then wife Beverly Martin, but more dramatically on Solid Air.

Previously in Arthur: John Martyn, 1948-2009

3 thoughts on “"We're all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while we're here"*

  1. Pingback: Alternative Music Talk » John Martyn’s Second Attention

  2. I never realized where Wooden Wand got his inspiration for the cover of “Second Attention,” which I highly recommend! It’s still strong in my rotation after two years.

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