by Michael Buffalo Smith
I first met Amanda Martin when we did a gig together at The High Lonesome Saloon in Rome, Georgia. I was immediately impressed by her talent, as a singer, a songwriter and as a performer.
In December I was happy to again share the stage with Amanda at the annual Angelus benefit in Tampa, Florida. The lady is a serious force to be reckoned with. She has written songs with many of Nashville's finest writers, and performed onstage with everyone from Vince Gill to The Marshall Tucker Band. We are happy to present an exclusive interview with a girl on her way to the very top. Introducing, Amanda Martin.
I know you’re a Nashville girl now, but tell us a bit about where you were born and raised?
I was born and raised in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. I’m from a little town called Saranac, NY, where most of my family still resides. Many people associate NY with the city, but there’s also a beautiful country side.
Who were your early musical influences?
My parents played a huge role in my early musical influences. They had a band called The Family Tradition, and my Dad would sing Jones, Haggard, Jennings and Cash while my Mom sang harmonies. I can still remember falling asleep on the shuffleboard table with their band playing in the background. One night they pulled me up on stage to sing Ricky Skaggs’ “Honey” with them and when it was over a cowboy in the audience started passing his hat to give me tips. I think I made my first $9 as a four year old. I was hooked! As I grew up artists like Trisha Yearwood, Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks also helped to shape who I am as an artist.
Was there a particular artist that made you say “Wow! I want to do music for a living!?”
Garth Brooks. Man, what an entertainer. The night he played his concert Live In Central Park my parents and I were on vacation headed back home and passing through Jekyll Island, Georgia. We stopped and checked into a really great hotel on the beach overlooking the ocean. But when I realized there was no HBO in the room I was devastated. Realizing that it seemed as if my world was about to end, my parents checked out of the hotel and we made it to the nearest run down Super 8 with HBO just in time to see Garth take the stage. What a great concert. And great parents!
Tell us about any early bands and forays into music.
Luckily my father taught me to play guitar when I was fourteen. It allowed me to become a “one woman band,” so to speak. In high school my guitar started going with me everywhere. I played basketball, soccer, and softball, so on away games I would bring the guitar on the bus and serenade my team mates. Before long my friends knew all of the words to most of the Top 100 country songs. (Laughs)
Do you remember the first song you wrote? How old were you?
The first song I remember writing that was pretty good was called “Listen to Your Heart.” I performed it at my high school graduation and received a standing ovation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house including my own.
What about your first substantial public gig?
My sophomore year at Belmont University in NAshville I won a contest called “The BEst of Belmont.” It was a college wide search and the winner got to perform onstage with Vince Gill at his annual basketball tournament. It was such a thrill to be onstage with him and a ,memory I will never forget. The year before I stood in line for hours in the rain trying to get tickets to the concert! (Laughs)
What year did you move to Music City?
I moved in 1999 and began to attend Belmont. I graduated in 2003 with a degree in music business and management.
How do you like Nashville?
I’ve been in love with Nashville since I was a kid. I always will be. When I moved here I realized it is not just because of the music. It’s about the characters and musicians that make up this town that makes me miss it when I’m away.
Tell us about your band.
On any given event my band changes. Everybody is in the same boat. We are all trying to make a living doing what we love. Most players I use are also on the road with other artists such as Joe Nichols, Jo Dee Messina, Blake Shelton and Lee Ann Womack. It all depends on how schedules work out.Regardless of who I use in the band it always rocks!
When and where did you record your debut album? How did that come about?
I recorded You Can’t Help But Love Me at The Parlor Studios in Nashville. The album is really a collection of demos that I wrote and recorded while I was at my publishing company Best Built Songs.
Wow. Your demos are better than a lot of people’s fully produced albums! How did you end up writing and recording that beautiful duet with Lee Greenwood?
Lee was recording in the Parlor Studios and my publisher Larry Sheridan played him one of my songs. Lee asked to get together and write, and of course I sid yes! We got together at 10:30 one morning and the song was written in about two hours. We were in the studio recording it the same day. Lee sang his vocal and put down a piano track in no time. I went in a few days later and sang my vocals. What an experience!
You have a guitar endorsement. I am so jealous! Tell us about it.
I have an endorsement with Boulder Creek Guitars based out of California. They are a great company to work with and have awesome guitars. I can be found in both Guitar World and Premier Guitar magazines endorsing their products.
You have a song on the latest Trace Adkins release. How did that come about. Tell us about the song.
The song is called “Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink.” I co-wrote it with Larry Cordele. LArry is the writer of “Murder On Music Row” and many other great ones. I originally heard the idea for the song in an old movie on TV. I was half asleep but when I heard the hook line I knew it was good. I immediately wrote it down and brought it to Cordle in what was our first writing appointment together. The song pretty much speaks for itself -”Sometimes a man takes a drink, sometimes a drink takes a man.”
You have a great new tune on your MySpace, “Hazel Eyes.” Tell us about the co- writer and the song.
“Hazel Eyes” is one of my brand new songs and one that I am proud to be a part of. I wrote it with Ronnie Bowman, who is also known for writing :Never Wanted Nothin’ More” and “Gettin’ Better All the Time.” Hazel was Ronnie’s Mama’s name and he told me about how he was looking into her eyes as she passed. Having hazel eyes myself, i immediately connected with the song as well, although for a different reason. That’s the cool thing about the song. Everybody can relate because you can insert your own story into it. It’s interesting because “Hazel Eyes Are Cryin” was the last line we come up with in the song which ended up being the title.
You have been writing a lot with some great Nashville writers. Please fill us in.
Nashville is filled with great writers. Most of those I write with have turned out to be my dearest friends. People like Jimbeau Hinson, Larry Cordle, Ronnie Bowman, Rafe Van Hoy, Curtis Wright, Monty Powell, Harley Allen, Mark Collie, Bud Lee, Gary Cotton and John Wiggins just some who have mentored me along the way. It’s hard to list them, as I am afraid I will leave someone out!
Who are YOUR favorite song writers of all time?
There are to many to name. Basically my favorite songwriters are the ones who write from their soul. Two great examples are Kris Kristofferson and Harlan Howard.
Some of my favorite artists aren’t even heard on radio. Lucinda Williams. Leslie Satcher, Radney Foster, Chris Knight, and Charlie Robinson are all in my stereo right now. Oh yeah, and some Beyonce. Shhhhhh!
You are a great country artist, but you really rock it too. Do you believe Southern Rock had an impact on today’s country music? Explain.
Of course! Charlie Daniels’ band has had a huge impact on today’s country music. The same goes for The MArshall Tucker Band. Great music is going to make an impact, period. And there is a lot of great music in Southern Rock!
What is a typical day in Nashville for Amanda Martin?
Typical? What is that? (Laughs) I wake up everyday wondering what is going to happen next. There always seems to be a phone call or an e-mail, or nowadays a text message that keeps me hanging onto the dream. Most of the time though, I spend my days in writing appointments or in the recording studio.
I met you through Mike Proctor at The High Lonesome Saloon. Your thoughts on Mike and his cool venue. Also, did you hear they are about to become a full on live recording studio?
Mike Proctor has been a Godsend from the moment I walked into the High Lonesome Saloon. I felt like I was home. It;s my absolute favorite venue to play and I can’t wait for more gigs to come! Mike and I are currently talking about doing an “Amanda Martin Live From the High Lonesome” CD. I can’t wait!
You played Angelus last year and they of course asked you back for this year. How was that experience for you?
One word, unbelievable! I met so many new friends and musicians there and couldn’t believe I was hanging out in the company of The Charlie Daniels Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Confederate Railroad, and Bo Bice. Of course there was ol’ Buff Daddy too!
What is your advice for any aspiring singer songwriters, especially the young ladies with a dream?
I know it sounds trite but never give up un your dream. There are so many talented people that I have seen pack up and go home. It’s hard, but nobody said it was going to be easy!
Fill us in on any special career events and what you have coming down the pike.
I have a show coming up in August at 3rd & Lindsey here in Nashville that I am excited about. Opportunities are endless when you play in this town. You just never know who will be sitting in the audience. Of course there’s the Angelus in December and I’m sure a lot more music to come from The High Lonesome Saloon!
In closing, if I asked you to tell me how you feel about music in one sentence...
Simply - Music is what keeps my heart beating.