HIRTH’S HEART FULL OF SOUL 1945-2015
Hirth’s Heart Full of Soul 1945-2015 is about a very special interview with songwriter/guitarist Hirth Martinez. My brother Edward Huerta did the interview with Hirth a few months back. At the time none of us here were even aware that Hirth was ill. This was most likely the last interview that he did.
Hirth passed away a few weeks ago before we could even get this story together and the interview transcribed and put up.
Thank you for the interview Hirth. You and your wonderful songs will always be remembered and may you rest in peace.
1970’s AND DINNER WITH THE FAMILY
I can remember many years ago as a teenager sitting at the dinner table and listening to the stories my Dad would tell us about his friend Sammy Martinez’ son, Hirth. You see, Hirth wasn’t just an ordinary guy.
Hirth was a guitar player. He was a song writer. He made records. My Dad even told us that Hirth was going to give Bob Dylan guitar lessons. Bob Dylan. Hirth knew thee Bob Dylan!
Dad even mentioned that Hirth was a friend of Robbie Robertson. Robbie Robertson of THE BAND! You see, Hirth wasn’t just an ordinary guy.
Due to the length of the interview, Jackaboutguitars.com is putting it up as a two part story. Here’s Part One beginning with Ed’s Interview with Hirth. – Jack
HIRTH’S HEART FULL OF SOUL 1945-2015
I had the pleasure to interview Hirth a few months back. Hirth was a soft spoken, intelligent, friendly and very spiritual person. We seemed to hit it off instantly. I had recently embraced developing my spirit and beliefs in another plane or in another power somewhere else. We both felt there’s another plane of existence that our energies go to when we are done with our work here on earth.
At the time of the interview, Hirth must have known he was ill but never let on. After we hung up the phone, I felt a certain peacefulness or calmness in where Hirth was at this point in time. I remarked to my brother that Hirth was a very spiritual man and it was a great thing that our paths happened to cross at this point in my life, that perhaps, there are no accidents in this life.
Some folks may consider these beliefs strange or weird but until you have seen firsthand the work of an outside force, then you will never understand. I was lucky to have been able to converse with Hirth Martinez. He was put in my path for a reason.
Imagine my sadness when I was informed that he had passed away just a couple of weeks ago. This may have been Hirth’s last interview. I know it will never be forgotten for me. I grieve for our loss here on earth….but for Hirth, his journey is just beginning…will catch up with you brother in a few…thank you for all of the music you gave us..RIP Hirth Martinez..
YOU ARE A STAR
THE INTERVIEW: PART ONE BY ED HUERTA
EH: First off Hirth, Let me thank you for doing this interview…like I said, when I was a kid, my dad would come home from work and he’d talk about Sammy Martinez’s son (Hirth) and I thought WOW! This guy is really doing it. He is making records! You were the first person that I was aware of that was making original recorded music. That was pretty cool…let me get started in the very beginning. What is your very first recollection of music?
HM: You know my parents played music too. My uncles all played. My Dad played piano and his youngest brother also played piano. The next brother played guitar, one of their cousins was a drummer, and another cousin was a bass player.
So when my Dad met my Mom, she was a singer. Her brothers, she had four brothers, they were musicians too. They were all horn players: trumpet, tenor sax, and not sure what the others were. They sort of merged and became a band with the two families.
So when I was growing up, I must have still been in a crib, and they would rehearse at the house. There was a courtyard and they would all gather at my Dad’s house, a small duplex in East L.A., and rehearse almost every night in that courtyard.
They were always playing records and playing music all of the time. Because the house was so small and the crib was right there, I would be jumping up and down inside the crib digging the music and a couple of times the railing fell down and I’d land on my head. So that explains my personality from that.
Anyways, as I recall, my Mom used to listen to a lot of singing records. She was a singer. I remember hearing lots of Hank Williams and Count Basie, which is a weird combination. My Dad and his brothers were jazz guys and they all wanted to hear bebop so they would listen to Dizzy Gillespie. I was getting that and from my mom I was hearing all the songs with lyrics, so eventually in my lifetime, when I was about 10 years old, I started playing guitar. I had already taken piano and trumpet lessons.
My father being the piano player, he started getting me lessons when I was three. For a little kid to sit there and try to practice for an hour a day, that seemed like a longtime for a little kid. I would sit there and go by the books and play that classical music and think, ah, I hate music…then, no, I love music…back and forth, back and forth.
When I got into school I was 6 years old, in first grade, and took up trumpet. I had the opportunity to choose an instrument. I picked trombone but they ran out of trombones so I picked trumpet. I studied trumpet in school and got pretty good so they got me a private teacher and I hated that. I wanted to improvise. I had to read the dots, read the dots…I had trumpet lessons from 6-10 and at 10 I figured out what I wanted to do.
I found an old guitar that my Dad had laying around the house. He also played guitar. I got a couple of pointers from my uncle who also played jazz guitar and I went over to Montebello and there was a music store called Modern Music on Hollywood Boulevard and Whittier near a little club or Inn that I later played there many times, but I can’t think of the name of it right now.
Anyways, I signed up for lessons and I got a woman guitar teacher and I was 10 years old and I knew a little bit on my own and she got me to read and after that I devoted my whole life, my entire time, my whole soul to the guitar. At the same time I realized I could write songs…and at that time I was listening to songwriters like Hank Williams and Don Gibson, Johnny Cash…In those days on the pop radio station you would hear Johnny Cash then Jerry Lee Lewis then Dave Brubeck, very eclectic…I liked jazz a lot but I also liked country and pop music. My uncles couldn’t understand this because they were die hard jazzers and they hated everything except jazz.
EH: You answered quite a few of my questions already. Now you said you liked Count Basie. Now I was wondering, was that with Jimmy Rushing on vocals?
HM: Yes, Jimmy Rushing and a lot of those acts came out in the ’40’s like Slim Gaillard and he was a scat beboperoonie type guy.
EH: He was humorous right?
HM: Yeah, humorous, very funny, he was a crazy type guy, almost insane. It was so out there. I loved his stuff, very spontaneous. So I thought there’s got to be a way to do songs more spontaneous…like find a stream of consciousness type style and write the songs from that aspect. I just kept on writing and it took me to preteen and teen age and then I started to play a lot of gigs.
In those days, bands like Dick Dale, Duane Eddy…surf music and Johnny Otis was happening with the R and B stuff. He always had great guitar players and I was being influenced by Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, two virtuoso country guitar players, and when I told my uncles who I was listening to, I told them Les Paul and they got mad at me! One of them said, “isn’t he like a country player? You should be listening to Barney Kessel or to Byrd!”
EH: That’s pretty cool. You were very gifted to be writing songs at 10 years old…to know who Charlie Parker is and Wes Montgomery is…most people it takes them until 19 or 20 years old just to figure out jazz or give it a listen. It took me awhile, I’m rockabilly based or I’m rock and roll based and when I was in my 20’s I explored jazz and thought, “ Whoa, there’s a whole other country out there!” For you to be doing this at 10 years old is pretty gifted.
HM: To me it was just astounding that there was a whole world of music out there. You gotta realize I didn’t think of anything else. It was my life and I knew it was going to consume me more later on. I knew what I was getting into and I sort of surrendered to that feeling and became fascinated with songwriters like Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter…they were the same type of guys, only in country, it was Johnny Cash, Hank Williams…Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and he had a band called The Weavers. They were from the 40’s. I was exposed to a very eclectic realm of music and art. I had my favorite artists and it wasn’t beyond me to try to paint and write poems and songs. It’s constantly what I did. I don’t even know how I got through school.
EH: Now were your parents very supportive of your artistic bent?
HM: They were extremely supportive and looking back I was thinking they must have known or understood something of what I was about and they always encouraged me and bought me books of different artists and musicians, like biographies and autobiographies of music to support my weirdness…like I was a loner and wrote and played guitar constantly in my room.
Musicians would come over and that’s how I met Thee Midnighters. I don’t know how they knew who I was but Willy G. (Willie Garcia) came over and I wrote the flip side of Whittier Boulevard called “Evil Love” and became friends with those guys. They had a mystical quality about their look and the way they played and I never tried to keep any type or any style of music down, whatever came through me, I just accepted it and put it down.
This is why in my catalog is not only huge but it has every style of song you can think of in there. I’m going to do a show in August in New Hampshire and I have hundreds and hundreds of songs to choose from of my own and I will even throw in a Dylan tune because he helped me get my first record deal. I really like him and Carlos Jobim, virtuoso guitarist, is another one, and Johnny Mercer. I’m in awe of great musicians as well as great songwriters. In our world sometimes, jazz musicians, to them, nothing else existed but jazz music. Others feel the same way, whatever their style is, that is all that exists.
HIRTH MARTINEZ with VAN DYKE PARKS
My world is real wide and sometimes confusing to me but the more I live each moment, the more I realize I am learning in each moment, and it all makes sense. It all fits no matter what type of music I am listening to. I listen to every type of music you can think of. I like traditional Japanese music a lot. I go to Japan a lot and the music to me, it’s the most fascinating world, it’s a self-contained world. It is spiritual and has healing factors. I sort of feel like I live in the mystic a lot. Everything just fits in my world.
EH: You are amazing me right now because you are answering my questions before I can even ask you them. My next question was what are your influences, musical, the written word, philosophical or even spiritual influences?
HM: My influences, my philosophical influences are melded with my poetic influences. I read a lot and I have read a lot from the beat generation. Kenneth Patchen. I actually became friends with his wife, a few years after he passed. He wrote very stream of consciousness. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and recently enjoy Charles Bukowski…his work and Emily Dickinson a lot…Carl Sandburg.
My spiritual, I’m not really religious but my spiritual is almost the same philosophy, but it is all Jesus. There was a guru in India, he has left the earth now, his name was Paramahansa Yogananda. I followed his teachings for many years. I still do. I am not a joiner so I don’t really belong to any particular organizations. I just like to get a little bit from here a little bit from there and I see philosophies of Jesus and also of Dylan Thomas almost as one philosophy.
Albert Einstein is another. It’s like music. They all meld for me .The people I got things from who I am came down from, people like Ray Charles, Jackson Pollack, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso. I like the abstract a lot and the stream of consciousness. If you listen to my songs there is a lot of stream of consciousness in my music that pours out of me. I don’t even realize what I am writing about. The words come down and I don’t even realize it.
There have been a couple of songs where I have used words and I didn’t even know what they mean. One of them, I was recording in New York, and I had to look it up in a dictionary and no other word would have fit there…it just fell into place. I feel like if I can keep my focus on the universe that these things will come through, whether a painting or poem, that I don’t have to decide these things, that the universe will take care of this.
EH: You know if I would have interviewed you a few years ago, I would have thought that you are way out there or even crazy but I understand 100 percent of where you are coming from. I just picked up painting about seven years ago when my parents passed away. My wife told me I needed a hobby to get my mind off of that, so I took up painting. I am very amateurish, never took a lesson, but these days I feel like someone is guiding me, setting up the canvas…I can even see where to go and what colors to use before I start working on it. I feel like someone is guiding me and sending me tips, hints, like a channel…like you seem like an instrument of some greater force it seems like.
HM: Yeah, yeah..I have or teach several writers that hang out with me that are informal students, and I try to teach them that the only thing they have to do is to learn how to open up and let these forces in because sometimes if you start messing with it, like if your mind gets involved, you can really screw it up…sometimes when you are doing a painting or poem or some songs and it’s coming along perfectly and your mind, which is part of your ego, jumps in and starts messing with it, it becomes a patchwork and it’s all messed up.
If they can only accept what comes through and you might not even like it but sometimes I have written songs like why did I write this but then later you look at it and say of course I like it because it’s perfect, it is seamless and I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved in it. I just wrote it down. Sometimes it’s hard for artists to step aside from the ego and let the spirits or God do it for you.
EH: Yeah, I totally understand. It’s mind boggling when you write a song and are taken over, I feel I am not that talented and sometimes I look at it and say “hey, that’s not that bad that someone helped me out here.”
HM: What kind of art do you do?
EH: I do a lot of jazz and blues musicians…also a lot of situations..Like Jerry Lewis being shot by Jack Ruby..(laughs) but mostly musicians…Now I heard a rumor that you gave Bob Dylan guitar lessons? Is this true?
HM: Now that’s a rumor but he asked me if I taught and I told him I don’t have a teaching method but I can show you some stuff how I do things. I usually give lessons to people that play already. So he asked for my phone number but he never called me and it never came down. When you get to know him a little bit he is very spontaneous. For example, we were in the studio with one of my records one time and I was putting down a guitar and a vocal on a track from my Hirth from Earth record and I was playing like blues and I was performing it and I felt someone was hovering over me and it was Dylan….and he said “Wow, you’re kinda like a combination of Dave Brubeck and Howlin’ Wolf ,” and he asked me if he could play harmonica and I said “Yes.” So he said, “let me go get it” and he ran out of the studio and I didn’t see him again for about six months.
He is different than we are. He was so famous. He can’t even eat at a restaurant, now. I know or I heard he was taking lessons at McCabe’s (music store in Santa Monica) over there…someone saw him on a Saturday…but I never gave him lessons.
HIRTH FROM EARTH
EH: Now Robbie Robertson from The Band produced your first LP, Hirth from Earth. How did you two meet?
NORMAN’S RARE GUITARS, & ROBBIE ROBERTSON
HM: I don’t know if you are aware of a guitar store out here called Norman’s Rare Guitars. I met Norman before he had the store and I was selling a Gibson dot neck 335 that I had and I put an ad in the paper. Norman saw it and called me, came over and looked at it, and said, “Oh yeah, I want to buy it.”
My table was covered with songs and lyrics and he asked me about it. It turns out Norman doesn’t play guitars, he plays keyboards, but he likes collecting. He had a warehouse in Florida full of guitars that he had bought from people that he was looking to sell and they all happened to be antique electrics, vintage electric guitars.
So he bought my dot neck 335 which even at that time it was already old. I think I got that guitar the first year that the dot neck 335’s came out. That was about 10 years. My Dad found it. A friend had a music store and was selling it so he bought it for me for a hundred bucks. With a case.
So anyway Norman found out that I wrote songs. He said I have a band and he listened to a couple of my songs and he said, “Wow, why don’t you come over on Saturday and bring a tape of your stuff. At that time I was writing 10 hours a day, every day.
To be continued…(You’re gonna love what happened next.)
Stay tuned for Part Two…Coming Soon