Tony Martinez took naps in his father's guitar case when he was a baby. He would cry and cry at his father's shows, and would only stop when he was put in the guitar case and fall asleep to the sound of the music playing.
The first time he recalls getting fired up about wanting to play music was at age 4, when he was watching his father play with his band, and he remembers thinking, "How do these five guys come together with various instruments and make different sounds to combine and make one sound?" This was an impressive feat to his young mind, and he told himself right then, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."
So far, he has. This Sunday Valley Fever is hosting his farewell show at Yucca Tap Room starting at noon with the support of Mario Moreno & The Ramblers, Jimmy Pines & Washboard Jere, Barefoot and Pregnant, Matthew Reveles, The Far West (L.A.), The Podunk Poets (L.A.), and Jayke Orvis and The Broken Band (Pittsburgh).
He always fiddled with the guitar, but it wasn't until his father was home, ailing with a cancerous tumor, that he taught him simple chords to play songs. His father eventually recovered, and Tony kept practicing his chords until he began listening to old bluegrass tapes and Beatles records to learn songs. Eventually, he made his own songs based off those early influences that he would pause and then rewind till he learned a part and then figure out all the other parts of the tune. He taught himself how to play, listen, and duplicate what he was hearing on the tapes.
Tony Martinez rebelled against his father's musical interests in high school. His mother was into rock 'n' roll and he wanted to go against what he thought was "corny" at the time. He was listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Boston, and going through a variety of phases: punk rock, rockabilly and psychobilly. He was 16 years old when his band jumped on five dates of the Warped Tour; looking back, he's glad he doesn't play that type of music anymore.
The first time he performed by himself was at Valley Fever, an event held every Sunday at Yucca Tap Room, hosted by DJ's spinning country records and live performers that started back in 2006, with DJ Dana Armstrong. He met Dana in 2007, when he wasn't even old enough to drink in the bars yet, but he did.
He was 19 or 20 at the time, and had never played by himself, so Valley Fever was the place that pushed him to sing and play guitar independently. It was hard for him at first, being so young, to take the plunge. He saw Dana spinning old country records and that influenced him -- when he walked into that bar for the first time, he says, it "[made] people feel like they're in a different decade, back when things were fun and music was good."
Martinez wants to bring what he calls "real country music" back, because he believes the country you hear on the radio now, about big trucks and dirt roads, is meaningless. He doesn't want to be considered a traditionalist, because even his own music brings in influences from different genres of music, he believes in bringing back country music that is "good and means something."
So why the move to Nashville?
Martinez was interested in visiting Nashville because it is the center of the country music business. He drove out there with Dana in his Suburban, and was unimpressed, at first, with what he heard on the Broadway strip, but after a few attempts Tony found some bars that were playing the type of music he is interested in supporting and creating.
He connected with musicians who became interested in his music, and he plans to reconnect with them when he makes his full move to Nashville. His future in Nashville is uncertain--he's going to give himself at least six months. If all goes well, he'll stay longer; if it doesn't, he's not against the idea of making the move back to Phoenix.
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Martinez wanted to stay in Phoenix and try to make Phoenix the next big scene for country, but he felt that in order to do that, he had to move away to either Austin or Nashville, to experience a place where the support and community for it is already stronger.
Martinez hasn't released much music because he's a perfectionist when it comes to his original songs, but he hopes to save up to record his debut album in Nashville. He wants to take Arizona country to Nashville, and while there he plans to represent the Arizona country scene. He has a couple of songs online available via Reverbnation, but if you want to hear his original songs along with the covers of old-time country songs he is famous for, it's best to catch him live at Yucca Tap Room this Sunday, while you still can, before he bids our city farewell for Nashville, Tennessee.
Valley Fever's Tony Martinez Going Away Party is Sunday at Yucca Tap Room in Tempe.